Do the right thing in the right way

“If you’ve got it, flaunt it!” Typically, this expression means: If you have a great body, don’t hide it under modest attire. Show yourself off for the world to see. If you have a brilliant mind, don’t be humble and unassuming. Expose the genius within. If you have money, spend it so that people know you’re loaded. Perhaps you can see the problems with the notion, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it!” Yet, for some bizarre reason many Christians assume that this expression is valid in the spiritual realm. It’s common for Christians to brag about how much they give, how much they pray, how much they serve, and how spiritual they are. Honestly, we’ve all been guilty of this behavior. It’s easy to be spiritually smug and let pride enter into our lives. We all want to be recognized and appreciated. We all want to impress people with our gifts and devotion. Yet, the Bible is clear that we must seek to impress God alone. This requires a motives check-up. After all, motives matter when it comes to being approved and rewarded by God. This means you must do the right thing in the right way. In Matt 6:1–18, Jesus shares three practices that will enable you to do the right thing in the right way.

1. Give without fanfare (6:1–4). Jesus urges you and me to give with pure motives that please God. He begins in 6:1 with a principle that introduces and summarizes 6:1–18. Jesus says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” The word “beware” always warns of danger ahead, like a bridge being out of order or a road being under water. To refuse to obey such a sign is both foolish and dangerous. Here, Jesus warns you to beware of seeking to impress people. He doesn’t say that you can’t be impressive. Many Christians are impressive people. Jesus is not opposed to public righteousness that is an act of worship (cf. 5:20). We are commanded to be “salt” and “light” (5:13–16). Jesus’ primary concern is with your motives. God looks at the heart (motive) before the hand (action)! If your motives are to hear people “ooh and ah” over your righteousness, you have your reward…but it is on earth, NOT in heaven. Jesus’ words are absolute. He is saying, “Anyone who does a good deed so as to be seen and appreciated by others will lose his or her reward, no matter how ‘good’ and beneficial the deed is. There are absolutely no exceptions!” It is imperative, therefore, that you do the right thing in the right way.

After laying down the overarching principle, in 6:2–4, Jesus focuses on the topic of financial giving. He says in 6:2: “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.” Jesus says “when” you give. The word “when” is a key word throughout this entire passage. Jesus does not say “if” but “when.” He assumes that His disciples will give…including YOU! This means giving is not optional. Yet, maybe you’re thinking, “I’m barely making ends meet and you want me to give?” Absolutely! You’re never too poor to give. If you’re struggling to get by, give to someone who is struggling more than you. The Lord will meet your needs, especially if you are obedient to give.

The question that Jesus is addressing in this verse and in this entire passage is not “when” but “why.” Why do you do what you do? It is important to see that Jesus does not forbid public giving, but He doesn’t want you to “sound a trumpet.” This is a figurative phrase from which we get our expression “toot your own horn.” In other words, do not give for the purpose of being “honored” by people. When the offering plates are passed, don’t cough loudly just as you’re giving. Don’t slam-dunk your offering into the plate. Don’t give so that your name will be inscribed on a building, on a plaque, on a brick, or in a list of donors for all to see. If you do, that will be your reward. The word translated “in full” (apecho) is a technical term for commercial transactions and means to “receive a sum in full and give a receipt for it.” When you seek to impress people you are not giving but buying, and you get what you paid for. [Take out a receipt.] This receipt shows that I made a purchase at Walmart and received some “food” (if you can call it that). I paid for my food. I received it in full and consumed it. End of story. This is equally true when I seek to impress people instead of God. I am paid in full with no hope of any future reward.

Fortunately, Jesus offers an alternative to giving with fanfare. In 6:3–4 He says: “But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Please don’t take this verse literally or else you will have to undergo a lobotomy. This is a hyperbolic phrase that means “give in secret.” Don’t give with your right hand while you wave your left hand in the air. Instead, just drop your check in the offering or send it in the mail, without drawing attention to yourself. Fold the check. Keep the envelope sealed. Give in a spirit of humility and simplicity, as an act of worship. Try giving anonymously sometimes, even if it means that you do not receive a tax deduction. Why? Verse 4 says, “so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” Again, there’s nothing wrong with public giving that is an act of worship. But there’s plenty wrong with giving money to impress people. If you do, it is like taking municipal bonds and cashing them in early. You get accolades, but not nearly what you would if you waited. This is the principle of delayed gratification at work. You will receive your reward later, but from God Himself.
Does this mean that you should never tell anyone what you give and who you give to? No! Acts 2:45 tells of Christians selling possessions and giving to the needy. In 4:36–37, Luke tells us that Barnabas sold a field and brought the money to the feet of the apostles. If Barnabas was looking for status and prestige, his motive was wrong. But it’s certainly false to say that it was wrong for others to be made aware of his gift, because Scripture itself reveals that! Barnabas’ act of generosity was commonly known among the believers and was publicly and permanently recorded in Acts. Numbers 7 lists the names of donors to the tabernacle. 1 Chronicles 29 tells exactly how much the leaders of Israel gave to build the temple. This is recorded in Scripture for our encouragement and motivation. Jesus does not object to the fact that people may know what you give, but that you would give in order to impress people rather than God. We need heroes in the church. We need to know that our friends and leaders are giving. This motivates and challenges us to give even more sacrificially. The key is: why do you give? Do you give to please God or to impress people? When it comes to giving, make sure you do the right thing in the right way. [Jesus urges you to give without fanfare. Why should you give in secret? Because God will reward you. The second practice is…]

2. Pray without pride (6:5–15). Jesus’ teaching on prayer is the centerpiece of the entire Sermon on the Mount. In 6:5–8, Jesus contrasts prideful and humble prayer: “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

Again, Jesus’ concern is praying to impress others. He is not opposed to long prayers or public prayers except when you are seeking accolades from people. Jesus’ point is: When you pray to impress people, you are paid in full. Instead, pray in secret and receive a reward from God. Perhaps a few questions would help.
Do I pray frequently or more fervently when I am alone with God than when I am in public?
Is my public praying an overflow of my private prayer?
What do I think of when I am praying in public?
Am I looking for “just the right” phrase?
Am I thinking of the worshipers more than of God?
Am I a spectator to my own performance?
Is it possible that the reason more of my prayers are not answered is because I am more concerned about bringing my prayer to men than to God? Do the right thing in the right way.
In 6:9–13, we delve into what is commonly called “The Lord’s Prayer.” I prefer, however, to call this “The model Prayer” since it was designed as a model for Jesus’ disciples. In these five verses, there are a total of six petitions. In 6:9–10, there are three petitions that promote God’s glory; in 6:11–13, there are three petitions that concern our wellbeing. This pattern indicates that we should have more concern for God than we do for ourselves.

Petition 1: God’s person (6:9). Jesus says pray, “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.’” Jesus does not say, “Pray this prayer verbatim three times a day.” He says, “Pray, then, in this way.” In other words, our prayers should resemble the categories and content of the Model Prayer—worship and petition. This prayer is the skeleton and we are to add meat to the frame Jesus provides. The word “our” demonstrates that this prayer is for the gathered community, not private prayer. Only fifteen times was God referred to as the Father in the Old Testament. Where it does occur, it is used of the nation Israel or to the king of Israel. Never was God called the Father of an individual or of human beings in general. He was Yahweh and Adonai. In the New Testament, Jesus comes on the scene and emphasizes the fatherhood of God. He expands the intimacy that we can have as we approach God in prayer. However, God is not your pal, your buddy, or the man upstairs—He is your Father who is in heaven! He is high and lifted up and He still expects to be approached with awe. The word “hallowed” means set apart. “Name” refers to personhood and character. “Hallowed be Your name” means, “Show the world who you are!” God wants His name exalted in our lives. You are to set apart God’s name as distinct from other names. You are to honor His name. You are to ask God’s name to be made holy in your life.

Petition 2: God’s program (6:10a). Jesus says pray, “Your kingdom come.” In the New Testament, God’s kingdom is expressed as both a present reality and a future realization. Jesus inaugurated His kingdom during His earthily ministry, but the fulfillment of His kingdom will not be fully realized until He sets His feet down in Jerusalem and rules and reigns. When this occurs, we will experience a theocracy (not a democracy) where Jesus is King. In the meantime, we pray that God’s kingdom will come in our life and eventually to the earth. As we approach each day, “God, may Your kingdom come.” Regardless of what happens, God will bring about His kingdom. You can count on it!

Petition 3: God’s purpose (6:10b). Jesus says pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This is a prayer for God’s control of earth and your life as He has of heaven. In heaven, the angels respond to God’s commands perfectly and immediately. God expects this same type of obedience from you. This means that you go into your day saying, “Lord, I want to live this day for You. May Your will be done in my marriage, my family, my work, and my church. Use me to fulfill your will perfectly and immediately. I don’t want to make You look bad. I want to be Your representative.”

Petition 4: God’s provision (6:11). This petition deals with our personal needs. Jesus says pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This is not just talking about food. “Bread” is a figure of speech, which represents our needs. It’s interesting that twice in this brief sentence we have an emphasis on “today.” “Give us today what we need today.” Jesus only promises you TODAY, not tomorrow, next week, or next year (cf. 6:34). He wants you to live in daily dependency upon Him. After all, you are not guaranteed tomorrow. Jesus wants you to know that you don’t provide for yourself, neither does your company, your spouse, or your family. He alone meets your needs. In this crashing economy it is tempting to be worried about your job, your investments, and your retirement. Now if that is where your confidence lies, be worried. In fact, worry yourself to death because things are bad and they may not get better! But if your confidence is in the Lord to meet your daily needs, you have nothing to worry about.

Petition 5: God’s pardon (6:12, 14–15). This petition deals with our interpersonal relations. In 6:12, Jesus says pray, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Jesus assumes that you and I will forgive. In 6:14–15, there is a P.S. to the Model Prayer. Please read these words slowly and soberly. Jesus says, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” Stop for just a moment and feel the full weight of these words.

In 6:14, Jesus promises forgiveness if you forgive others. In 6:15, He explicitly states that if you do not forgive others, God will not forgive you! What is Jesus saying here? This passage is not about salvation because Jesus’ audience is saved. The issue is fellowship. Notice the phrase “your heavenly Father” (6:14). Jesus’ target audience is in the family. Yet, Jesus is saying that when you refuse to forgive, God withholds fellowship forgiveness. This means you will lack intimacy with God and He will not respond to your prayers. This may sound severe, but remember the underlying ethic in Jesus’ teaching is love—love for your heavenly Father and love for people. God loves you so much that He will allow you to come face to face with your sin. He will confront you with your refusal to forgive by withholding fellowship. This is to bring about deep repentance and restoration of the love between the parties involved. So how should you respond in light of Jesus’ words? I propose three applications.

Remember the debt you have been forgiven. There are five key Greek words in the New Testament for sin. Only one is used in the Model Prayer. It is the word translated “debts” (opheilema, 6:12). This word has to do with a balance owed. That’s why Jesus said, “Forgive us our debts.” Every time you sin, you go into debt to God. You have taken on an obligation you cannot possibly meet. It’s like charging $100,000 to a credit card with a $1,000 limit when you have only a $1 bank balance. Sooner or later, the collection agency is going to come looking for you. Sin makes us overdrawn debtors to God—even if we are already Christians. As a result, our fellowship with God is broken. Only compassion and forgiveness can balance the books. The more aware you are of your great evil the more you will be able to forgive. If you feel that you are not as sinful as the next person, you can’t forgive. However, if you know God’s forgiveness you will forgive, for a forgiven person is a forgiving person.
Today, will you see anew and afresh the enormous debt that you owe God?
Will you choose to see the sin that still pervades your life even though you are a believer?
Will you be broken before God so that you can forgive those who sin against you?

Rely on the Holy Spirit to enable you to forgive. The word “forgive” (aphiemi) literally means “to release, to let go of.” Simply put, forgiveness is letting go of my right to hurt you for hurting me. In the New Testament, the word forgiveness was used primarily to describe the release of someone from a financial obligation. Forgiveness gives up the right to hurt back. When you forgive someone, you are saying, “What that person did to me was wrong. He has hurt me deeply and deserves to pay for his offense. But today I am releasing him of the obligation he has toward me. I am not forgiving him because he has asked to be forgiven or deserves to be forgiven. I am forgiving him because of the tremendous forgiveness God has offered me.” Does biblical forgiveness work like a charm? Not in the sense that you may think. Although I have forgiven various individuals, fleshly thoughts toward these individuals still rear their ugly head. When this occurs, whether it is hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly, my goal is to release my negative emotions to the Lord. Forgiveness does not mean that you will forget, it means you let go of your desire to retaliate. Instead, you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (5:44). Obviously, this requires supernatural empowerment.

Recognize the personal benefit of forgiveness. It is possible to develop a root of bitterness that will defile you and many others (Heb 12:15). If you choose not to forgive, you will be the one who suffers. In the end, those whom you don’t forgive are holding you as a hostage. Stop for just a moment and think about the person or persons that you have chosen not to forgive. [Show a Ziploc bag with a rotten banana.] If I could, I would have you purchase as many bananas as you have enemies. For every enemy, I would then have you write your enemy’s name on a banana and then date it. I would then have you carry this Ziploc with you everywhere—to work, to church, into the shower, to the dining room table, even into your bed. Perhaps your bag would become quite heavy. Lugging this around, paying attention to it all the time and remembering not to leave it in embarrassing places would be a hassle. Over time the bananas become moldy, and smelly. This is what happens when you refuse to forgive. Often, we think of forgiveness as a gift to the other person, but it clearly is a gift to ourselves. Save yourself some grief. Unload your unforgiveness today.

Petition 6: God’s protection (6:13). This final petition deals with our spiritual concerns. Jesus says pray, “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” If this passage teaches that God leads us into temptation, then doesn’t that contradict James 1:13, that God does not tempt anyone? The word translated “temptation” (peirasmos) can mean “temptation,” “testing,” or “trial.” Prior to the time of the New Testament, this word only meant “testing” or “trial.” The New Revised Standard Version translates this word “trial” in 6:13. If their understanding is correct, Jesus apparently is teaching that we should pray that God would allow us to escape from trials. The idea of escape or deliverance is carried on in 6:13b: “deliver us from evil.” Most English versions read: “deliver us from the evil one” rather than simply “deliver us from evil.” Either translation is possible, but “deliver us from the evil one” is the better translation, particularly since Matt 4:1–11 records the temptation of Jesus by Satan, the evil one.

The point of all of this is that you are incapable of handling spiritual problems on your own. You need God’s help. He alone is capable of handling each and every problem you face. As we come to the conclusion of the Model Prayer in 6:13, the NASB has the final sentence in brackets. Other versions have this sentence in a footnote. Scholars tell us that these words are probably not part of the original prayer taught by Jesus, but that they were added later as a doxology of praise. Although they may not be part of the original, they make a fitting conclusion to the prayer: “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” Whether inspired or not, these words remind us that God is great and that He is in control. As you reflect on these words, please recognize that when you fail to pray you are basically saying that you can make it on your own. This is the epitome of arrogance. So acknowledge your need and pray without pride.
[Jesus says that you must pray without pride. When you do, He promises that He will reward you. The third and final practice is…]
3. Fast without notice (6:16–18). Jesus hits upon the controversial topic of fasting. In a world of golden arches and pizza temples, this is a hard word. We are gluttons who worship food. Nevertheless, Jesus says, “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” The Pharisees fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12), on Mondays and Thursdays. But when they fasted, they looked miserable and tried to draw attention to themselves. They seemed to say, “Look at me; I’m fasting!” They are like some politicians who ride in helicopters over natural disasters. Their faces are grim and mournful, but it is only a “photo shot.” Jesus says, “Don’t you be like them!” Instead, look to the positive examples in Scripture. Old Testament believers fasted (Neh 9:1–2; Dan 9:2–20). Jesus fasted in preparation for His earthly ministry (4:2) and implied that Christian disciples would fast following His brief ministry (9:15). The early church fasted (Acts 13:2–3; 14:23; 2 Cor 6:5; 11:27).

Yet, fasting is not commanded in any of the New Testament letters. This is likely the case because many godly individuals cannot fast for medical reasons. However, fasting still seems to be assumed, even though it is not commanded. So what exactly is fasting? In Scripture, fasting is typically a time of abstaining from food for the purpose of devoting one’s self and one’s time to the Lord. We should not think of fasting as a way to get something from God. We fast as one means of drawing closer to God. You become keenly aware of your dependence on God when you are very hungry. This is designed to stir us toward God. But be careful of your motives. Do not think things like, “This will help me lose weight or purify my system.” Fasting is to purify the believer’s heart, to spend time focusing on God, to learn to deny the physical in order to grow the spiritual. Fasting is for repentance, for sorrow, for purification. Fasting helps us become more sensitive to God. If you are going to fast make sure that your doctor gives you the freedom to do so. The motive and manner are crucial; the length and frequency are optional. Jesus cares about our motives. This is why He says, “Give without fanfare, pray without pride, and fast without notice.” It has been said, “The secret of religion is religion in secret.” Oswald Chambers (1874–1917) said, “My worth to God in public is what I am in private.” Who are you when no one is looking? That is the ultimate question. Do the right thing in the right way.

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Supernatural responses

Have you ever put something together from IKEA? Even though the directions were confusing, difficult, and disputable, without them we would have been sunk. Therefore, we poured over every page, photograph, diagram, and step-by-step direction, gleaning what help each could offer.
Likewise, in the spiritual realm, the only way to deal with an especially daunting task or relationship is by studying the directions in God’s Word. This admonition is especially important when it comes to loving those who hurt us. We live in a society of raw power: the one with the strongest fists or the most guns wins. Instead of the Golden Rule, our ethics are, “Do unto others first, before they do unto you.” “If they do anything bad to you at all, finish them off before they can do anything worse.” Or my personal favorite, “I don’t get mad, I get even.” All of these expressions are natural responses; however, you and I are called to live a supernatural life. In Matthew 5:38–48 Jesus says, “When you love without limits, you are like God.” In these eleven verses, He lays down two discipleship commitments.

1. Forgo your own “rights” (5:38–42). Contrary to popular belief, you have no rights. When you became a disciple, you signed up to die to self. In 5:38 Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’” Jesus quotes the law of retaliation that is found in three Old Testament passages (Exod 21:24; Lev 24:20; Deut 19:21). This phrase causes some to say that the Old Testament Law was savage and bloodthirsty, but that is not true. Actually, it was the beginning of mercy. And it is the foundational law of all civilization. Although it allows retaliation, it limited retaliation by setting restrictions. The law was intended as an equalizer of justice. If a person knocks out my tooth, I get his. And if I poke out his eye, he gets mine.

Retaliation as we know it sets out to get more than that. We want to up the ante. We want two eyes for an eye or a life for an eye. But this law limited retaliation and disproportionate revenge. In other words, people could only get back what they lost. In addition to being merciful, the law limited retaliation for the offended. It didn’t allow the whole family to get into the act. When wronged, we tend to line up forces of family and friends to retaliate. If a person cuts off my ear, I want to cut off his head. And if I cut off his head, his brother will kill me, and if he kills me, my brother will kill his brother, and pretty soon we have a clan war. Without the law of retaliation, revenge goes from the individual to the family to the clan to the tribe and ultimately to whole nations. So what seems like a blood-hungry law was actually a way of limiting violence and bloodshed.5 Furthermore, while the law allows one to get even within limits, it does not require one to get even. So even in the Old Testament one could forgo retaliation.
Of course, Jesus’ teaching generally goes above and beyond the Law. In 5:39a Jesus declares, “But I say to you, do not resist [retaliate against]7 an evil person…” The word translated “resist” in this context means “do not render evil for evil.” Jesus is talking about revenge, not self-preservation. He isn’t telling us to be weak and passive; He’s telling us not to be vindictive. Jesus wants us to ask the question, “If someone does something evil to me, how may I respond with only good in return?” Obviously, this is a high standard to live up to! Yet, Jesus style-discipleship is not for spiritual wimps!

In 5:39b–42, Jesus provides four illustrations of what it means to not retaliate against an evil person. In His first illustration in 5:39b Jesus says, “but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” This verse is often used to prohibit any form of self-defense. But is this Jesus’ intent? First of all, notice that Jesus specifically mentions “the right cheek.” Approximately 90% of the people in the world are right-handed. [Bring a young man on stage and provide the following slow-motion visual demonstration.] I am right-handed and if I punch you with my right hand, I will hit you on the left cheek. If I try to hit you on the right cheek with my right fist, I won’t hurt you one bit. Jesus is not referring to a situation where another person is attempting to punch your lights out. He is speaking of a slap across the right cheek with the back of the right hand. Second, in Jesus’ day a slap to one’s face was considered a gross insult by the Jews, and was among the most demeaning acts one could inflict on another person. Slapping someone on the cheek was a sign of contempt and did not pose a serious safety threat. It was considered a terrible insult. Receiving the back of the hand meant that you were scorned as inconsequential—a nothing. If a man struck you with the back of his hand instead of punching you in the mouth, you could collect twice the damages because an insult was worse than an injury in Jesus’ honor-shame society.

Even today, the Irish often say, “The back of my hand to you,” which means, “You are scum.” Third, Jesus is not describing a physical attack and telling us to roll over and “play dead.” You should not encourage your children to be beat up by bullies. Nor should you stand by and watch while an innocent person is attacked. You should not let thieves, murderers, and terrorists have their way in our society. When necessary, you should seek to protect yourself, your family members, and victims of injustice and cruelty. But what Jesus is saying is this: When someone insults you, do not seek revenge. You should not trade insults, even if it means you receive more. You must avoid retaliation and personal revenge! When you love without limits, you are like God.

A couple of years ago when Tiger Woods won the Master’s Tournament, Fuzzy Zoeller responded with some mean, racist remarks—remarks he intended to be funny, but were only mean-spirited. Fuzzy received a great deal of well-deserved criticism for his comments, but Tiger Woods’ response was, “We all make mistakes and it’s time to move on.” Tiger could have returned the insult—the media would have loved it—but he refused to retaliate. Instead, he said, “Let’s move on.”
Do you share Tiger Woods’ response? Is this your attitude when you bear the brunt of insults? Can you say, “We all make mistakes and it’s time to move on?” Jesus did not give tit for tat. He was not in the business of getting even. Some of us would even the score, even if it kills us–and it may! By nature we are vindictive. Vindictiveness will eat our heart out. It will sour our spirit. How unlike the Savior we are. As soon as someone starts a rumor about us, we get on our high horse. Our backs arch like a cat. We show our fangs. We are ready to do battle. If given a chance, we will hang their hide on the wall. We are still in kindergarten spiritually, compared to our Lord. We believe that we must defend ourselves and vindicate ourselves. When it came to this kind of thing, our Lord Jesus was not concerned about His reputation. Are you willing to leave retaliation in God’s hands? This is not to imply that you are to be passive in your relationships. Jesus often confronted those around Him, but He was not vindictive. Jesus did not threaten His accusers with harm. He did not say, “I’ll get even. I’ll get the Father after you.”
In Jesus’ second illustration in 5:40 He says: “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.” This is where we get the expression, “I lost my shirt.” The Greek word translated “shirt” (chiton) is translated “tunic” in many English versions. The term refers to a long-sleeved inner robe similar to a nightshirt that a person wore next to the skin. Jesus instructs His disciples that if someone tries to sue for their tunic, they should let him have their “coat” (himation) as well. This cloak was the outer robe (cf. 27:35), which was an indispensable piece of clothing that the poor used for a sleeping cover. It was possible in Jesus’ day to sue others for the very shirt on their backs. However, no one could take another’s cloak. So even if you lost your shirt (or tunic) in court, and your opponent asked for your cloak and won it, he had to return it every evening for you to sleep in. That was the law.

What was the situation here? Evidently, Jesus was giving advice to the poor among His followers—those who had been reduced to the garments on their backs because of persecution for their faith. His teaching is simply this: “As they sue you (no doubt falsely) for your shirt and win it, give them your cloak too, even though they cannot legally take it.” Jesus makes a startling demand of His disciples. They must reverse the dynamic. Instead of defending themselves or seeking retaliation, they must give to this person who is so unfairly attempting to take their most basic necessities. This is supremely radical, and it is meant to point one’s persecutors to Christ. When you love without limits, you are like God.

In Jesus’ third illustration in 5:41 He says: “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.” This verse provides the background for the expression, “Go the second mile.” In Jesus’ day, Roman soldiers had the authority to force civilians to carry their loads for one mile. However, Roman law said that a person only had to do this service for one mile and then he was free to go. Obviously, the Jews held to the letter of the law on this. They measured the mile in steps: one thousand exactly. And they counted every single step. When they got to one thousand they stopped, put down the pack, and left the Roman to carry his own load or find another victim. The Jews hated the Romans making them carry their loads. I can just see some slave saying, “Fine. I may have to carry this soldier’s stuff, but you never know what might happen to it. It could get really dirty if I accidentally drop it in the mud. You just never know.” Jesus’ point is: “Don’t behave like this! Instead, offer to go another mile. Give your opponent more than he has the right to demand. Ask him, ‘Is there anything else I can do to help you?’” You should demonstrate a humble servant’s heart and cheerfully go beyond what is expected or demanded. When your boss gives you a dreadful project that is too much to bear, seek to serve him or her. If your boss treats you poorly, honor him or her and find out how you can go the extra mile. Seek to be a blessing. When you love without limits, you are like God.

In Jesus’ fourth and final illustration in 5:42 He says: “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” This illustration has to do with the law of lending. Deut 15:7–11 indicates that debts were canceled every seven years. The borrowers loved this. The lenders were not quite so enthusiastic. If I was a lender and someone came to me for a loan in the sixth year, I would think twice before giving it to him. If he didn’t pay it off quickly, my loan would turn into a gift. The closer the seventh year got, the more tightfisted businessmen became. But Jesus said they were not to allow the seventh year to govern them. Whenever a person had a need, God’s people were to give generously. After all, the people in Jesus’ day were not asking for home-improvement loans. They needed money for food. In our day and age, does this mean that a Christian banker should never refuse a loan application, no matter how bad a person’s credit report looks? Does this mean you have to loan money to irresponsible people again and again, even if you know they won’t make an effort to pay it back? Or that every time you’re approached by someone on the street that you have to give them your money? No, because this commandment doesn’t relieve you of your obligation to manage your resources responsibly. It’s your responsibility to practice generosity, but it’s also your responsibility to practice discernment. Jesus is talking about people in legitimate need.

Do you like paying taxes? If you’re like most Americans, you probably resent it, right? Maybe you wish you could find some way to make sure the government doesn’t get a dime. I wonder if Jesus would suggest that in addition to paying your taxes with gladness that you also pay the second dollar. Perhaps Jesus is asking you to sacrifice an even more costly commodity—your time. The government supports all kinds of social programs that feed, house, and educate the poor. You could resent having to pay for these services or you could say, “You know, I can do better than that. I can volunteer for programs that provide jobs for those who need work, shelters for those who need housing, food for the hungry, and community health services for those who are diseased. I can build a house or teach someone to read. I can support an organization that provides baby supplies for unwed mothers.” When you love without limits, you are like God.
[The first commitment you must make is to forgo your own rights. This is necessary because as a disciple you have no “rights.” If you are to live like Jesus, you must go above and beyond the Law. The second commitment you must make is to…]
2. Kill your enemies with kindness (5:43–48). Obviously, I am speaking figuratively here. The primary way you demonstrate that you are Christ’s disciple is by your love for others, particularly your enemies. In 5:43 Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’” The phrase, “You shall love your neighbor” is a quote from Lev 19:18. The word “neighbor” conveys the idea of one who is near. The neighbor could be a fellow believer or an adversary. The phrase “hate your enemy” is not a direct quote from any Old Testament passage; it was an inference from various texts (Deut 23:3–6; 25:17–19; Ps 139:21).

The crowd that was listening to Jesus’ sermon must have said, “Okay, I will love my next-door neighbor, but those blasphemous Samaritans and unclean Gentiles—well, that’s another matter.” However, in 5:44, Jesus once again goes above and beyond the Law by declaring: “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Here, love is not simply praised, it is commanded. This requires supernatural strength. It has been said, “To return evil for good is devilish; to return good for good is human; to return good for evil is divine.” Now if you have been raped or molested, you don’t have to be friends with your enemy. In cases like this that would be unhealthy and dangerous. But you are still commanded to love your enemy. However, Jesus does not say that you need to like your enemy or like what he does. Rather, you are called to love him or her. Biblical agape love requires that you are concerned about the welfare of even your enemies. This means that you will do things that will benefit and not harm them. How do you know if you really love your enemy? Do you pray for him or her? You can be confident that you love your enemy when you pray for him or her. Has it ever dawned on you that your greatest enemy and persecutor may be your spouse, your child, your sibling, or your parent?

Why should you love your enemies? Jesus gives the purpose in loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you in 5:45: “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” You may be saying, “Wait a second, I thought I already was a son or daughter of God.” If you have believed in Christ as your Savior, you are a son or daughter of God. The focus of this verse is not on attaining a relationship with God, but rather on being a person who shares the characteristics of God. That is the meaning of the Semitic idiom “son of.” We would say, “Like father, like son.” We say of a son, “He’s a chip off the old block.” Of a daughter we say, “She’s the spittin’ image of her mother.” When you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, you are like God who is so gracious that He gives good things even to those who rebel against Him. Jesus says that His Father sends sunshine and rain to fall on believers and blasphemers. God deals with enemies and friends alike. When you deal with both enemies and friends with their highest good in mind, you are like God.

In 5:46–47, Jesus poses two pairs of rhetorical questions that get to the heart of the matter. He says, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet [bless] only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” Jesus declares that friendship with one’s friends is nothing exceptional. Everyone does that…even tax collectors. In Jesus’ day, the tax collectors would collect taxes for the Roman government and then add a surcharge, which they kept. Since tax collectors worked for Rome, they were viewed as traitors to their own people and were not well liked. (Around April 15th many Americans are not too fond of tax collectors either.) Tax collectors were the most despised people in Jewish society, yet even they had love for those who loved them. Jesus’ point is, this is true of everyone. So how is your love going to surpass that of the tax collector? Is there something about your love that cannot be explained in natural terms? Is there something special and unique about your love that is not present in the life of the unbeliever? These are important questions because your love must be supernatural. Do you stop being kind and gracious to others because you know that they dislike you?

Jesus concludes this passage in 5:48 with the words: “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This verse summarizes not only this passage (5:38–48), but everything that has been said thus far in the Sermon on the Mount (5:3–47). Jesus makes it clear that the goal of Christianity is perfection. You are called to be like Jesus, the only one who lived a perfect life. The burden of trying to be perfect is so heavy, someone has observed, “The Christian life has not been tried and found difficult; it has been tried and found impossible.” So how can you deal with this? How can you put together the demands of Scripture with the realities of life? One solution to this tension between holy expectation and unholy performance is to change the standard and make the demands relative. “No one can be perfect, you know, so there must be some sort of sliding scale here. Just do the best you can. Try to one-up your neighbor.” Unfortunately, this thinking can become a reason not to rise to anything better. Yet, Jesus calls you to rise above your imperfect love to His perfect agapelove.50 This can only occur when you trust in His perfect person and work.

You might read 5:48 and wonder, “Could I ever do that?” If so, you’re asking the wrong question. I don’t know if I could ever go into combat. I see the images on television—the firefights, the bravery, the sacrifices, the casualties—and I wonder if I have what it takes. The first and hardest decision, however, is not whether I could jump into a firefight with an AK-47, but whether I could join the military in the first place. If I reach the point where I feel called to enter the military and I sign the papers, then at that point I’ve already decided that I am willing to go into battle. Answering “yes” to the first question, “Can I serve in the military?” automatically answers the second, “Can I go into combat?”

The demands of the Sermon on the Mount work the same way. When you look at the requirements, you rightfully ask, “Could I really do that?” But that’s the wrong question tofocus on. The first and most important question is: “Can I answer Jesus’ call to discipleship?” If you answer that affirmatively, you automatically answer the question, “Can I carry out Jesus’ discipleship demands?” As a disciple, because you’ve already decided up front that you’ll obey Jesus’ commands, the question now is not will you live the life, but how?51 When you love without limits, you are like God.

Perhaps you’ve seen the movie on the life of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi studied Christianity in England but never became a Christian because he claimed Christianity didn’t seem to work for Christians. Although he wasn’t impressed by the Christians he met, he was very impressed with Jesus, especially His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Gandhi tried to incorporate Jesus’ wisdom into his own life. At one point in the movie, civil war breaks out between Pakistan and India. The war stems from divisions between the Muslims of Pakistan and the Hindus of India. Gandhi lies on a cot after weeks of fasting in protest to this war. A distraught Hindu man approaches him. His only son, still a little boy, has been shot and killed in the conflict. His heart is full of sadness, bitterness, and revenge. Gandhi can barely speak, but tells the man how to heal his own heart. “Find a little Muslim boy whose father has been killed. Take that boy as your son, and raise him as a Muslim.” The distraught man walks away completely confused and disappointed. Apparently he thought the weeks of fasting had weakened Gandhi’s ability to reason. It made no sense to him whatsoever.
If Gandhi could seek to live out the Sermon on the Mount the way he did, how much more so can you as a believer in Jesus Christ?

Choose to be pure

A young Bosnian couple was incredibly unhappy with their marriage. Consequently, Adnan and Sana each turned to online chat forums. Adnan chatted online at work, and Sana chatted from an Internet café. Each spouse found a willing online listener with whom they shared their marriage problems. Adnan and Sana felt loved, nurtured, encouraged, and understood. Both spouses felt that they had finally found their real soul mate. Eventually they decided to meet up with their online chat partner. They arranged to meet outside a shop and both would be carrying a single rose so they would know the other. Shock of all shocks, Adnan and Sana discovered that their perfect partner was their own spouse. (Adnan was chatting with “Sweetie” and Sana was chatting with “Prince of Joy.”) Instead of reconciling and rediscovering their love, both are filing for divorce—with each accusing the other of being unfaithful.

What a sad, but true story. This Bosnian couple failed to keep their promises to one another. Their Internet affair wasn’t something that just happened overnight. It was a case of “internal affairs” stemming from restless hearts. In Matthew 5:27–37, we will discover that, “Integrity is a heart matter.” Jesus explains that if we are to be people of integrity we must control our hearts and our minds. He provides two means by which God’s people can be people of integrity.

1. Deal radically with your passions (5:27–32). Jesus compels us to do whatever it takes to be men and women of purity. In 5:27 He states, “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY.’” Jesus quotes the seventh commandment, in Exodus 20:14 (cf. Deut 5:17). Upon hearing these words, Jesus’ audience must have felt pretty smug. Jesus, however, shocks His listeners by raising the bar on their ancient sexual standards. In 5:28 He declares, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus’ words make it clear that adultery is not limited to the physical act. Looking lustfully at another woman breaks the bond of oneness that a man has with his wife. This goes against the familiar statement used by husbands and wives, “You can look, but don’t touch.” Jesus says, “Don’t look and don’t touch!”

It is important to note the word “look” (blepo). This word is a present tense participle that can be translated “keeps looking.” Jesus is not talking about a glance; He is talking about a gaze. The first look doesn’t get us into trouble. It’s the second look. It’s the third look. It’s that case of whiplash as you walk about in the mall or that prolonged look in the rearview mirror while you are driving.
But let’s be very clear: Sexual desire was given to us by God and is portrayed in the Bible as a good gift. Admittedly, the gift is often labeled “Handle with Care,” but sexual desire comes from God. There is no sin in sexual attraction. It is not wrong to notice physical beauty in the opposite sex, but it is wrong to take that person to bed in our minds. We are constantly “on” as sexual beings. It’s not a matter of choice; it’s a matter of being human. In today’s world, attractive men and women are everywhere. You can’t escape it! Everywhere you look there is temptation lurking. To complicate matters, Satan takes what was intended to be good—sex in the context of marriage—and tempts us to use God’s gift outside of marriage. Granted, you can’t stop Satan from tempting you, but you can put a stop to the temptation at precisely that point. Martin Luther (1483–1546) said it well, “You can’t stop a bird from flying over your head, but you can stop that bird from building a nest in your hair.” You can say, “I will not think about that. I will not entertain that possibility.”

A man in his 80s said, “Lust is powerful. Even though I am in my eighties, I still struggle with lust and I can’t do anything about it. Although I spend my days working the land, far removed from women, I still live with my mind.” His lesson: the most important sex organ is the brain. Actions, habits, character, and attitudes all start with a thought and thoughts are fostered by what we choose to take into our minds. Integrity is a heart matter.

So how can a person control his or her sex drive? This is a question for the ages! Fortunately, Jesus is a step ahead of us. He anticipates this question and provides an answer. In 5:29–30 Jesus says, “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.” The first issue that must be resolved is: Are these verses figurative or literal? I can assure you that these verses are figurative. Otherwise, this sermon would be a case of the blind leading the blind. After all, no one is perfect in his or her purity.

Now stop and think about these verses. If you were to gouge out your right eye and chop off your right hand, the problem remains. You would still ogle with your left eye and fondle with your left hand. Cutting off your hand or plucking out an eye doesn’t keep you from committing mental adultery. So should you pluck out your left eye and cut off your left hand as well? No! We still have a mind’s eye, and in many ways that is the most dangerous eye of all. Since evil arises in the heart (Matt 15:19), amputation cannot cure lust. Jesus is speaking figuratively, employing a figure of speech called hyperbole, which makes a point through an exaggerated statement. You remember what your mom said: “I’ve told you a million times not to exaggerate.” Christ is not saying, “Cripple yourself”; He is saying, “Control yourself!” Take radical steps to deal with your passions. Consider the following suggestions:

o Recognize you are vulnerable. Don’t think you are stronger than Samson, godlier than David, or smarter than Solomon. You too can bite the dust sexually (1 Cor 10:12). Make sure you are humble and don’t look down upon those who have failed in the sexual realm.

o Meditate on Scripture. Like in football, the best defense is a good offense. Defeating lust requires an all-out, aggressive saturation of our minds with God’s Word.

o “Flee” temptation. Twice in the New Testament, we are commanded to “flee” sexual immorality (1 Cor 6:18; 2 Tim 2:22). Don’t try to be a man or woman and stand there and wage war against your flesh. Your flesh will conquer you. If your flesh doesn’t break you down, I can assure you that Satan can and will. Be like Joseph in the Old Testament and flee the scene (Gen 39).

o Watch your input. Consider the shows and movies you watch. Take stock of your Internet surfing. Avoid Internet porn like the plague. Ask yourself, “If Jesus were present, would I be watching what I am watching?”

o Dress thoughtfully. Modesty is incredibly important. But this works both ways. Guys like to hammer on women for immodest dress, but they will sport tank tops, muscle shirts, and short shorts. This is a double standard. Women may not be as visually stimulated as men but they aren’t dead either. We must guard one another from sin.

o Tell someone else. Remember, there is NO sin in being sexually attracted to someone else, but when you mull the attraction over in your mind and fantasize about the person, then you have sinned. Tell a friend of the same sex who you are attracted to and ask for accountability.

o Maintain eye-contact. This keeps you from looking a man or woman up and down or allowing your eyes to fall on a particular body part. It also shows proper respect and esteem.

o Think consequences. Remember the severe damage that sexual immorality can bring. Sex before marriage or outside of marriage can destroy your marriage and your ministry. Furthermore, it brings shame to God. Don’t allow yourself to go there.

The alternative of not dealing decisively with sexual sin is hell. No one can measure up to this standard. It is better to deal with the issue of sin by acknowledging sin and the One who paid for our sin on the cross. The standard for Jesus’ kingdom is perfection. The only way we can reach perfection is complete forgiveness and justification through Christ. The standard of perfection is God’s own character. If you have been less than perfect sexually speaking, will you receive the forgiveness that Jesus offers? It’s as simple as acknowledging your sin and believing that Jesus’ perfect person and work paid the penalty for your sin. Integrity is a heart matter. Let Jesus give you a new heart today.

In 5:31–32, Jesus continues His discussion of what constitutes adultery. Many people assume that Jesus transitions to focusing on divorce; however, His real point is that an unbiblical divorce is the moral equivalent of adultery. Jesus explains: “It was said, ‘WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE’; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery [if she remarries]; and whoever marries a divorced woman [a woman who has been divorced for something short of unchastity] commits adultery.” In 5:31, Jesus refers to Deut 24:1–4, which permits divorce for “some indecency” (ervat davar). This Hebrew phrase means “nakedness of a thing.” Although this phrase can include adultery, it typically refers to some gross sexual impropriety short of adultery. (In the Old Testament an adulterer was stoned to death!)
In Israel a man divorced his wife simply by giving her a written statement indicating that he divorced her. It was a domestic matter, not something that went through the courts, and it was quite common. In most cases a divorced woman would remarry another husband, often for her own security. Jesus says that new marriage, whether from the perspective of the divorcee or the one marrying her, is adulterous. Although a certificate of divorce has been given, Jesus is saying that God does not view the divorce as having occurred. In other words, a certificate of divorce does not annul the marriage. Instead, it causes you to commit adultery. You can’t commit adultery unless you are married. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is saying, “Everyone who divorces his wife makes her commit adultery except in the case in which she has already committed adultery herself.” Again, this discussion is not about divorce, but adultery. Jesus forbids divorce except forporneia (“unchastity”) which is translated “sexual immorality” (ESV, HSB) or “marital unfaithfulness” (NIV). Since “adultery” has already been specified by another word (moicheuo; 5:27–28), porneia must be something less specific than sexual infidelity but, following the Mosaic intention, more than something frivolous. It is likely that porneiaincludes any sinful activity that intentionally divides the marital relationship. Jesus states unequivocally the sacredness of the marital relationship but allows divorce to protect the non-offending partner and to protect the institution of marriage from being a vulgar sham.

Yet, even in the case of porneia, reconciliation and forgiveness are always to be the goal in a Christian marriage. If all attempts at reconciliation fail, then divorce is possible; but it is not the first step, and it is not mandatory. The spouse that is victimized by adultery or some other deviant form of sexual unfaithfulness may have the right to file for divorce, but he or she is certainly under no obligation to do so. The freedom to divorce was never to be a mere device for “serial monogamy.” Marriage is supposed to serve as a reflection of the faithfulness of God. Divorce is a concession by God to the sinfulness of man. God’s ideal is the stability of permanence in marriage. We need to be reminded of this again and again. It is easy to think that our next spouse will make us happy; however, it doesn’t always work out that way. Every person I know who has gone through divorce has experienced greater pain than they imagined. Many seek to relieve their present pain in marriage only to find a greater pain in divorce. This is not to mention the greater social issues such as the harm children suffer for the loss of a parent.

Can I get on a small soapbox for just a moment? Many Christians vehemently oppose homosexual relationships and same-sex marriage on the grounds that it destroys the family. Although, I too adhere to marriage between one man and one woman, I find it disconcerting that Christians aren’t up in arms over adultery and divorce among believers. If you look in terms of damage done to the children of America, you cannot compare what the homosexual movement has done to what adultery and divorce has done to this society. In terms of consequences to children, it is not even close!
However, I need to balance these words by urging you to treat those who are divorced with love and respect. It is especially important to be sensitive to those whose marriage was dissolved by their spouse’s unfaithfulness. We must always remember that God’s heart breaks for those who are divorced, who have placed their marriages in peril by succumbing to sinful situations or whose lives have been upended by an unfaithful or irresponsible spouse. We must continually affirm the permanence of marriage while at the same time offering full mercy and forgiveness for those who have suffered from failed relationships.
[Jesus says, “Deal radically with your passions.” This is critical because sexual immorality can destroy your spiritual well-being and your marriage. Jesus now follows His words on adultery with a few choice words on oaths and vows.]
2. Honor your commitments because you are committed (5:33-37). It’s not a coincidence that Jesus’ words on subduing our immoral passions are followed up with words on honoring one’s vows. After all, committing adultery and divorce involves breaking the most solemn vow—marriage. Jesus declares, “Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.’ But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil” (5:33-37). In 5:33, Jesus paraphrases several Old Testament passages prohibiting the failure to fulfill one’s vows. He also forbids swearing upon anyone or anything to add certainty to one’s oath. It is important, however, to recognize that Jesus isn’t suggesting that all oaths are wrong. In a court of law, a person is operating under the jurisdiction of governing authorities that are trying to establish human norms. To submit to taking an oath is complying with those norms and, by extension, is submitting to God (Rom 13:1–7; cf. Heb 6:16–18). Furthermore, the Bible records that God the Father and the apostle Paul swore to impress His truthfulness on people. Jesus also testified under oath as did Paul. So we must dig deeper to determine what was happening in Jesus’ day. Most likely, there was a casual use of oaths. Perhaps people were attaching “in the name of God” or “as God is my witness” to everyday promises—the pledge to buy a cow, the vow to visit a relative, or the commitment to pay a debt. We make false oaths today as well when we say: “I sweaaaar!” “I swear to God!” “I swear on my mother’s grave!” “I swear on a stack of Bibles!” “I cross my heart and hope to die!” All these attempts at persuasion are fabrications and dishonesty. If we have to use an oath to convince someone of our integrity, we are behind the eight ball from the start.

It has been said, “Oaths arise because men are so often liars.” We live in a world where lying is so commonplace that we don’t know whom to trust. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we ought to be radically different. True speech must be a part of our character. We should not need to confirm our statements with an appeal to a higher authority. Our word should be enough (cf. James 5:2). The bottom line is this: We don’t tell the truth because we have taken an oath, we tell the truth because we are truthful.
When Chris Spielman played for the Buffalo Bills, he was everything a middle linebacker should be: tough, strong and smart, with passion, total commitment and loyalty to the game. He played the entire 1995 season with a torn pectoral muscle that he sustained in the season opener. But football took a distant second place in his thinking during the 1998 season. He chose to stay home. He cooked, took care of his kids, and cared for his wife—by choice. Stefanie, Chris’s wife, was struggling through the stark reality of breast cancer. Surgery, chemotherapy, and nausea were Stefanie’s opponents. During her fight Chris was at her side. He even shaved his head (to match his wife’s hair loss during chemo) to help his kids understand. Spielman’s actions supported his “family before job” credo. When he was asked by a reporter if he’d consider a return to the Bills late in the season Spielman said, “I’d play in a heartbeat, but what kind of man would I be if I backed out on my word to her? I wouldn’t be a man at all.” Football fans saw Spielman as a man because of his aggressive, leave-it-all-on-the-field style of play. But what really makes him a man is his personal sacrifice and unending commitment and loyalty to his wife and children.
A good test of our credibility starts at home. When you promise your spouse you’ll do something, does he or she believe you? Does your child believe you? Our integrity depends upon our follow-through. Jesus’ disciples were called to be promise keepers. Are you a promise keeper? Have you maintained your purity, not merely physically, but mentally as well? Are you devoted to your spouse for better or worse? Are you a man or woman of your word? Can people count on what you say? Integrity is a heart matter.

Anger – confronting ourselves part 2

So how can you get a grip on your anger? Consider the following suggestions.
o Admit to yourself and God that you have an anger problem. Don’t make excuses for yourself. Don’t pawn your sin off on your family of origin. Just own it. After you have confessed your sin, ask God to change you from the inside out. Be patient with God’s work in your life. Typically, change is not overnight. It may take years to sense God’s victory. Anger may remain your besetting sin until you meet Jesus face to face. But this just means you need to pray for self-control and plenty of grace from God and others. One of the verses I pray regularly is James 1:19: “But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” Perhaps you could write this verse out on a 3×5 card and put it on the steering wheel of your car or your bathroom mirror. I would suggest memorizing this verse and then meditating on it throughout your day.

o Recognize the consequences of angry outbursts. As implied above, there are some words we are not free to utter. “I want a divorce.” “You’re fat.” “You’re ugly.” “You’re stupid.” “I hate you.” When words like these escape your grill, the consequences are severe. We’ve been told, “Stick and stones can break our bones, but words can never hurt us.” That’s a lie! Whoever came up with that line should receive a tongue-lashing! (Just kidding.) We must daily rehearse the relational damage of angry words. Words are hard to forget. Perhaps you still remember angry words that were spoken to you many years ago? I do. Hold off on sending critical e–mails. If you have something good to say, you should put it in writing. But if you have something bad to say, you should tell the person to his or her face. Deal with issues of anger privately. Christians often assume that they need someone to talk to about their anger directed toward another person. This is just an excuse for gossip and slander. It is even justified under the spiritual guise of prayer. There are consequences for angry words. We must also recognize that we will one day stand before Christ and have to offer an explanation for all of the words we’ve spoken. Later in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus goes so far as to say that we will have to give an account for every careless word we speak (Matt 12:36).

o In Ps 52:2, David states that our tongues devise destruction and can be likened to a sharp razor. (Display a razor.) When a razor is too sharp it can cut you.. Likewise, our words can “slice and dice” people. Therefore, we must always be cautious and sensitive to others. Nurture and esteem your relationships.

o Prepare to have your buttons pushed. Those who know you best and love you most know what to say to get under your skin. Expect that you’re going to get ticked. When you’re feeling like you’re about to explode, be conscious of your facial expressions. Often our facial expressions alone can get us into a fight. Remember the expression, “Looks that kill?” Need I say more? Another provoker of anger is our tone of voice. It’s been said that 90% of the friction of daily life is caused by the wrong tone of voice. Prov 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath.” Watch how you speak. Also watch your gestures. When you get really angry, stick your hands in your pockets. This will keep you from clenching your fists, waving your hands in someone’s face, pushing someone, or God forbid, striking another person. Put your hands in your pockets and just try to do some damage. You really can’t hurt anyone and you look foolish in the process. If you feel like you’re out of control and all this is going to fail, flee the scene. Take a walk and get some exercise.
[Jesus says, “We must recognize the danger of unrighteous anger.” Why is this so important? Because Jesus says that unrighteous anger is on par with murder. You are not only to reign in your own anger, but you must also…]
2. Reconcile with those who are angry with you (5:23–26). Jesus gives two illustrations exposing the seriousness of anger, the first in a worship context (5:23–24), and the second in a legal setting (5:25–26). In these verses, Jesus changes from “everyone” to “you” to ensure that every disciple applies what He says directly to himself or herself. In His first illustration, Jesus says reconciliation takes precedence over worship. “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” Please notice the word “first.” Jesus is speaking about the priority of reconciliation. Reconciliation is important enough to interrupt worship. Harmonious relationships with people must be in place before any true worship can take place. The expression “presenting your offering at the altar” assumes a sacrifice being given in the temple at Jerusalem. This saying, presumably uttered in Galilee, envisions a worshiper that has traveled some eighty miles to Jerusalem with his offering. Most likely, the offering is a sacrificial animal. The thought is that the person leaves the animal on the altar and then makes the week-long journey back to Galilee to reconcile with his brother or sister. The improbability of this scenario emphasizes Jesus’ point that we must deal with strained relations. Nurture and esteem your relationships.

Notice that Jesus makes an important distinction in this verse. He says if “your brother [or sister] has something against you.” The phrase “something against you” probably implies a “just claim.” In other words, the “beef” with you is legit! Jesus didn’t say “if you have something against your brother [or sister].” Why? Because if you have something against your brother or sister you need to just let it go. If someone has done something to offend you, forgive them. Settle the issue before God. If there is something about that person that causes you not to like him or her, overlook it. Prov 19:11 says, “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression.” Now, of course, if another believer has done something seriously sinful that caused harm to you or others, Matt 18:15–17 tells us how to approach the person. In this context, however, Jesus says that some believers should NOT attend church until they have pursued reconciliation. Yet, every week people sing songs, listen to sermons, take communion, give offerings, and even pray while they are harboring anger in their heart. Worship depends upon a congregation of worshipers who seek to be reconciled with each other and their neighbors. Peaceful, harmonious relationships, particularly within the church.

The second illustration stresses the importance of making things right quickly. Jesus urges us to have a sense of urgency when it comes to reconciling with an opponent, most likely someone outside of the church. In 5:25–26 Jesus says, “Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.” This illustration assumes that you owe your accuser a debt of some kind, and to collect on it he is taking you to small claims court. Jesus is saying: Don’t wait until you get to court to work out some kind of deal; settle out of court. Beware of Judge Judy! Because if the court has to decide the matter, you will be thrown into debtor’s prison and won’t get out until every last cent is paid. Remaining imprisoned until a debt is repaid down to the last penny elicits a sense of impossibility (cf. Matt 18:34), since the debtor had no chance to work to create funds. So if you have offended someone, it’s your responsibility to quickly do what you can to make it right. That means you approach that person and say, “I was rude to you, and I was wrong, and I am sorry. I took advantage of your kindness, and I am sorry. I borrowed money and didn’t pay it back, but here’s a small payment and I’ll pay the rest when I can. I made a promise to you that I didn’t keep, and I was wrong, please forgive me.” If there are people out there whom you have sinned against, it is your job to reconcile.

It is interesting that Jesus stated a practical reason to reconcile with one’s enemies—to avoid being thrown into prison. In other words, don’t wait until it’s too late—till tomorrow, till next year, or till kingdom come—to make peace with others. This will hurt you and will hurt the one that is angry with you. A root of bitterness can creep in and overtake you or your opponent (Heb 12:15).
In both of these illustrations, it is worth noting that Jesus seems to expect conflict. The point is not so much to eliminate conflict, but to resolve it. Jesus doesn’t say, “If you’re being sued, shame on you.” Or “If your brother has something against you, shame on you.” Conflicts are inevitable. The focus is on resolution. Nurture and esteem your relationships.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “I have tried to reconcile, but my opponent is unwilling.” If you have done everything in your supernatural power to reconcile, you have honored God. Rom 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” The willingness to reconcile must be shared by the other party. Don’t beat yourself up over this. But make sure that you have made right what you need to, and that your anger and insult and self–righteousness about it have been replaced by humility and a willingness to reconcile. Sometimes we have hurt someone deeply and it is fully our fault, but when we go to humble ourselves and seek forgiveness we are snubbed. We may be snubbed, but we must still go and seek reconciliation.

Again, I must ask you: Have you done what you can to be at peace with your antagonists, your in–laws, your ex, your parents, your children, your spouse, your coworker, your friend, your neighbor? If you were going to die soon and had only one phone call you could make, who would you call and what would you say? And why are you waiting? God calls you to nurture and esteem your relationships.

Confronting anger – part 1

Anger – confronting ourselves (Matthew 5:21–26)
“I hate you!” “I wish you were dead!” “You’re stupid!” “You’re worthless!” “I want a divorce!” “I wish we never had you!” “I wish you weren’t my parents!” Have you ever uttered any of these statements? If we’re honest, at one moment or another we have all spoken hurtful and hateful words. Yet, typically, most of us dismiss such comments by saying, “You really made me angry.” “I lost my temper.” “I didn’t really mean it.” Or the ever pathetic, “I was just joking.” While it is tempting to minimize our angry words, thoughts, and attitudes, the truth is there can be danger in anger. This is fitting since anger is only one letter away from danger.
In one of the old Peanuts comic strips, Charles Schulz shows Sally trying to locate her memory verse for Sunday School. She has forgotten it, and can’t locate it in the Bible. She is lost in her thoughts trying to remember the reference when she suddenly says, “Maybe it was something from the book of Reevaluation.”1 Sally’s butchering of the book of Revelation is apropos, for the entire Bible is aimed at getting people to reevaluate their lives. In Matt 5:21–26, Jesus forces us to reevaluate our conception of anger. In these six verses, Jesus imparts two exhortations that will help us have healthy relationships. He says, “Nurture and esteem your relationships.”

1. Recognize that unrighteous anger is murder (5:21–22). Previously, in 5:20, Jesus said that our righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees. Now He stops preaching and starts meddling! Seriously, Jesus could have tackled any subject but He begins the body of His sermon by dealing with anger—a sin that many of us struggle with. In 5:21 Jesus says, “You have heard that the ancients [the Israelites] were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’” The opening phrase “you have heard…” alerts us to the fact that Jesus is going to quote from the Old Testament. Here, He quotes the sixth commandment: “You shall not commit murder” (Exod 20:13). He then reminds us of the penalty—“you shall be liable to the court.” At this point, Jesus’ listeners must have been thinking, “Yup, we got it. We’re not supposed to murder anybody. We’ve heard that one before. And we’ve behaved. We’re not murderers. We’re not guilty. We’re good, moral, ethical people. So preach on preacher!” You’ve got to admit, it’s always more comfortable when the preacher talks about other people, right? You’ve probably heard people say, “I’m not a bad person; I mean, I’ve never killed anyone.” Even as Christians, it’s easy to be smug and think that since we haven’t physically murdered anyone this commandment doesn’t apply to us. But Jesus undoes this thinking. He presses the sixth command inward when He drops a preaching bomb.
In 5:22 Jesus declares, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry7 with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good–for–nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” Jesus begins by saying, “But I say to you…” He is affirming everything in the Old Testament, but He is also fulfilling it. That is, He is “filling it full” of meaning. What was implicit in the Old Testament Law, Jesus is making explicit. He is giving insight into the original purpose of God’s Law, a purpose that had been lost among the teachers of His day. Jesus is saying, “I’m going to the very heart of the Law to show you how you can live out its deepest meaning.” In doing so, He moves from the fruit of murder to the root of murder—an evil heart attitude. Jesus insists that we are all guilty of murder because we’ve been angry in word, thought, attitude, or action. In other words, refraining from homicide does not impress God.

On the contrary, since God looks upon the heart, unrighteous anger can render one subject to God’s judgment. The terms “court” and “supreme court” refer to God’s heavenly court since no human court is competent to try a case of internal anger. Jesus goes even further when He states that the offender is guilty enough to go to hell. Have you ever been angry with anyone in word, thought, or attitude? Jesus says, “You deserve to go to hell!” Fortunately, Christ’s death has made salvation available to those who believe. If Jesus hadn’t paid for your sin with His death, you would spend eternity in hell, not just for murder but even for speaking insults. Thus, nurture and esteem your relationships.

Let’s break down these insults quickly. The phrase translated “good-for-nothing” is the Aramaic term raca. Take a moment and pronounce this word. It sounds wicked, doesn’t it? It also sounds like you’re about ready to hock a logy in someone’s face. YUCK! In Jesus’ day, raca was an Aramaic insult that meant something like “You worthless son of a motherless goat.” (This is not a literal translation!) The word means, “You brainless blockhead,” “you empty–headed fool,” “you idiot,” “you imbecile.” I think you get the idea. You used the colorful description raca when you were angry and wanted to attack a person’s self–worth and dignity. The same is true of “You fool!” The word behind “fool” is the Greek noun moros, from which we get “moron.” In Jesus’ day, moros was used to describe a person’s mental abilities; however, it was also used to describe a person’s moral character. If you referred to someone as moros you were calling that person “a stupid liar,” “a stupid cheater,” or “a stupid infidel.” It was an insult on someone’s morals as well as their character. Although raca and moros seem to be synonymous, raca seems to express contempt for a man’s head (his intellect), while moros expresses contempt for his heart (his character).
The problem of name–calling was far more serious in Jesus’ society than ours. Theirs was an honor–and–shame society. Most people had little to trade with except their honor, and to belittle other persons publicly was a serious matter. If a person were to lose his or her good reputation, it was about the same as dying. Jesus seems to say that when you treat persons as nothing by calling them names, you have in effect, already murdered them. Character assassination is just another type of murder.

It’s interesting that Jesus includes the phrase “with his brother”—“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother…” Isn’t it true that our anger tends to flare up most often against those we know the best and love the most? It’s hard to get angry and stay angry at people we don’t know. But let a friend or a relative do something we don’t like, and suddenly we blow our top.19 We tend to have little patience with our loved ones. Yet, Jesus’ primary concern is our relationships with those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. He cares about how we treat our spouse, children, siblings, and fellow believers. In Col 3:19 Paul writes, “Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them.” Although this verse is directed to husbands, it is applicable to wives as well. We need to stop our guilt trips, fault-finding, name-calling, yelling, sarcasm, and blaming. Speaking once again to husbands, Peter says that if we don’t treat our spouse with love and respect, our prayers will be hindered (1 Pet 3:7). In Eph 6:4 Paul writes, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (cf. Col 3:21).

As parents, we need to make sure that we show our children God’s love and compassion. In 1 Tim 2:8 Paul states, “Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.” The qualification for me to pray is to forsake ungodly anger. If we are angry, our fellowship with God is adversely affected, which means we lack power. The next time you become angry at your spouse, children, or fellow believer, think long and hard before cursing them. Don’t be lulled into thinking that it’s no big deal if you shout at your spouse or kids. It is a big deal.

So does this mean that every expression of anger is sin? No! Jesus and Paul both called people “fools.” But this was not flippant name–calling. Jesus and Paul labeled people “fools” because they were blindly allowing their religious practices to distort their lives with God. They were simply making statements of fact. Moreover, Jesus did get angry in the Gospels. He was angry when He cleared the temple (John 2:13–22). He was angry with those who assailed Him for healing on the Sabbath (Mark 3:5). Yet, His anger was not a personal attack. When Jesus was angry, it was because of injustice and sin. Jesus exercised righteous anger. Like Jesus, we should exercise a righteous anger (Eph 4:26). We should be angry with abortionists, drug peddlers, pornographers, racists, and vicious world dictators. When others pervert and destroy God’s purposes, we should have a sense of righteous indignation. Unfortunately, most Christians don’t struggle with righteous anger; we tend to struggle with unrighteous anger.
So how can you get a grip on your anger?
Stay tuned for the exciting finish next week!