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Meditations Contents
Series Theme:   Sermon on the Mount Meditations

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PART TWO: Remainder of Chapter 5

Meditation Title: Overview




Part 1: The Beatitudes

    Requirements of the Kingdom









The Poor in Spirit



Those who Mourn



The Meek



Those who Hunger



The Merciful



The Pure in Heart



The Peacemakers



The Persecuted



Part 2: Remainder of Chapter 5

    The General Nature of Jesus' Followers



Insulted & Slandered












Fulfilling the Law




    Practical Righteousness beyond the Law



Murder & Anger



Offerings & Upsets



Adultery & Lust



Radical Action












Loving Enemies



Be Perfect?



Part 3: Chapter 6

    Practical Righteousness through Piety



Hidden Righteousness



Giving to the Needy



Hidden Prayer



Praying to Father



Praying for God's Rule



Praying for God's Provision







    Values & Priorities






What you see



One Master



Be at peace



God's Will first



Part 4: Chapter 7



Beware Judging



Right assessment



Persist in Asking




Do to Others



It's a Narrow Gate



Be Discerning



Doers not just Hearers



The Fruits of Obedience



The Fruits of Disobedience







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Meditation No. 10

Meditation Title: Insulted and Slandered


Mt 5:11,12 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.


There is dispute about whether today's verses constitute one of the beatitudes and in as far as it starts with “Blessed” they are, yet beyond that they don't have the same structure and seem to be more of the general teaching style that follows in the rest of the sermon. It also seems to simply be an extension of the last true beatitude. Why should Jesus do that? Well the previous beatitudes were clearly heart processes that lead to salvation, culminating in two practical outworkings of the Christian faith. Up to verse 10 they had all been things you could clearly see as workings of the Holy Spirit as He does His convicting work. The last beatitude however, is unique in that it isn't His work, but the work of the enemy. For that reason Jesus' listeners and subsequent readers, might have thought, “What? How can this be? Does he really mean this or has he just wandered in his thinking for a moment?”


The fact that he then repeats and enlarges on what he has just said, indicates that Jesus is quite serious in what he is saying and really wants us to take hold of it, and that in two particular ways. The first way is in respect of the fact of persecution itself. It is clear that the disciples had really struggled to take in what Jesus said a number of times about his own coming death. Sometimes we don't hear things because we don't want to hear them. We don't like hearing bad things and persecution certainly comes in that category. So when Jesus wants us to take on board the unpleasant, he says it twice!


When he does that in these verses, he enlarges it and puts persecution in the midst of a group of things we might consider lesser forms of opposition or unpleasantness: people insulting us and speaking evil of us. The world today is very good at this and their insults will not only be to call us names but they will seek to marginalize faith and particularly seek to downgrade Christianity to the level of other world faiths. In Jesus' time they accused him of threatening to tear down the temple in Jerusalem. Later on they accused Christians of cannibalism (eat my flesh – Jn 6:53). Today the tendency is more likely to be to ridicule the faith. In whatever form it comes it is still insult and speaking wrong of us.


The second thing that Jesus wants to ensure he conveys, because it goes against the grain, is the way we respond to such things. With outright persecution the advice might have been, “Run!” and in fact on one occasion that's what the church in Jerusalem did (see Acts 8:1), but Jesus doesn't say that, perhaps because it is the obvious thing and will happen anyway. We noted in the previous meditation how, later in the sermon, he told his followers to pray for those who persecute them. That really is facing up to persecution positively. Here in today's verses it is almost worse: Rejoice and be glad. Rejoice when you are being hounded for your faith? Be glad when they are out to get you? Well that's what Jesus says so don't let's try to spin it any other way!


Why rejoice? Because it puts you in the same category as all of those other servants of the Lord who, down through the years, have suffered for the faith (the prophets of the past). It puts you in the same category as Jesus himself (Jn 15:20) but, even more as we noted yesterday, there is coming a future reward for you when you enter heaven. There is indication in Scripture that we will be rewarded according to what we have done here, and especially if we have stood in the face of persecution. Perhaps, if we are going through a time of peace, we don't appreciate this fully, yet the truth is that when you are going through it, the thought of the future eternity in heaven does help in a very real way, and the thought of our heavenly Father receiving us joyfully and praising us for the way we have coped (even if it is through His grace!) helps steady us in the face of what comes from the enemy.


So, do we only have a comfortable view of Christianity or a real view? Have we accepted the fact that there will be opposition and that God's grace will be there for us? When people respond less than graciously towards us, do we pray graciously for them? These are very real challenges already for many people in the world today, and may become more so for many more of us in these last times.







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Meditation No. 11


Meditation Title: Rejoicing


Mt 5:12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.


In the world, trying and difficult circumstances are greeted with moans and groans. Some people even go into depression because they feel they are unable to cope with the pressures of the circumstances of their lives. Living in this Fallen World (for it wasn't always like this before Eve and then Adam fell) means that part of life is living with difficulty. Ultimately we can trace all difficulties back to our sin, whether it be mine, and the circumstances were brought on by my own foolishness, or someone else's, and the circumstances are a result of their unpleasantness (to put it mildly!). So things go wrong and it is at that point that we reveal the nature of the life that is within us. There will be some who make excuses for the problems they have brought upon themselves. There will be some who get angry and bitter and seek revenge and retaliation against those who bring conflict into their lives. There will be some who will simply moan and groan.


Now we say all this by way of introducing again the incredible command of Jesus to his followers – and that means all of us who call ourselves Christians. Rejoice and be glad . That is the response that Jesus is looking for in us when other people come against us, simply because we are Christians. Because we are Christians they will oppose us and because we are Christians we can respond differently to the way the rest of the world might respond. Now all of this is so alien to the old sinful nature which is ever waiting to rise up if given a chance, that this is why we need to consider this yet again. We've considered the thought of persecution and we've considered generally the ways we should respond to it, but this whole matter of rejoicing in the face of difficulties seems such a big issue that it needs considering more fully.


Perhaps the first thing to say now is that to be able to respond like this is naturally impossible, for the reasons we've given above, and so to act like this is going to have to be by the grace of God, and that takes us back to the starting place that says this can only come out of our relationship with the Lord. And there we have another of these circular things: because we have a relationship with the Lord it provokes ungodly people to rise against us, and because we have a relationship with the Lord we find the grace from Him to help us cope with them.


But the next thing to note is that this isn't merely ‘coping' with them, this is having an attitude that is rejoicing. There is nothing either negative or half-hearted about this. This is the very positive grace of being able to have a light spirit that actually rejoices. Now perhaps you haven't taken in yet what that really means. To rejoice means to be glad, to be happy, and to be fully of joy. Think about how you feel after a success, or on a really good day when everything is going really well. You feel full of joy. You are rejoicing. Now Jesus gives us this naturally impossible command that says, feel exactly the same when people are against you.


How can you possibly do this? Well an obvious way is to turn to the Lord and pray. For this we need to go back to Acts 4 when the apostles received opposition. We considered it before but it's worth doing again. Peter and John had just been put in prison overnight (v.3), challenged by the religious rulers (v.5-7) and threatened with further punishment (v.21). What did they do? They went back to the others (get fellowship!), and they all prayed (v.24). In prayer they first of all regained perspective – God is the Creator of the whole world (v.24) and He has spoken into it (v.25), and even the bad things that had happened were within God's specific will (v.28) so that the sinful acts of men should bring about God's ultimate purposes. They then asked for God's enabling to continue to be witnesses (v.29,30). The result? God released His Holy Spirit (v.31) and they preached the message powerfully (v.33a) and everyone was filled with God's grace (v.33b).


But there was something else we missed out in their prayer. They recognized first of all that opposition to God and to His servants was part of the world (v.25,26). Under-girding their prayer was this strong sense that in it all they were living out the plan of God and therefore they rejoiced. They knew their reward would be there in heaven (we've covered that twice already).


To summarise: to obey Jesus requires all of his grace, but that will be there as we respond rightly to the circumstances. Unlike the world we are to respond positively when people and circumstances are against us, because ultimately we are walking out God's plan for our life and the end of that is a glorious time in heaven.







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Meditation No. 12

Meditation Title: Salt


Mt 5:13 You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.


We often say in these meditations that our verse or verses should always be seen in context. Did Jesus suddenly change track to come out with talk about salt or does it flow on naturally from what he has just been saying. As we have been considering in the previous three meditations, Jesus has just been speaking about how his followers will receive persecution and he indicated that we are to have a positive approach to that thought, that we are to rejoice in being part of Jesus' band who are persecuted like he was, but to also remember that we have an eternity in heaven to look forward to the other side of this persecution. Now to counter any possible thought of running away and hiding until that eternity in heaven comes, Jesus now teaches, “Don't run away, your place is here in this world changing it!” That, essentially, is what Jesus is saying here. Let's look at it.


Salt, according to current nutritional thought, does you no favours and should be taken in only very small doses. Well that's current thought, but in Jesus' day salt had at least two very important uses. The first use was as a preservative so meat might be soaked in a salt solution or even covered in salt to stop it going mouldy. Now if Jesus is saying, You are the salt of the earththen he is inferring that our presence in the world should have the effect of keeping evil at bay. The tendency of sin in the world is to make the world go rotten. There are some terrible verses in the Old Testament: The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” (Gen 6:5,6) Since sin had entered the world through Adam and Eve, it had flourished and grown so that as God looked on the earth, almost all He could see was the effects of unrestrained sin.


Now Jesus says that his followers are to be out in the open in this world, not hidden away fearful of persecution, having a purifying and preserving effect on the world. The only way we can do that is by living and working in this world in such a way that we purify and preserve the part of the life of the world that we touch. Is our block of flats, our street, our neighbourhood, our school or college, or our place of work, a good place because we are there and are we having the effect of restraining sin? That is challenging! To be able to do that we need great grace and great wisdom, but that is our calling. We ourselves are called to be holy, different (1 Pet 1:15 ,16). That is not like the Pharisees of Jesus' day who stood aloof looking down on everyone else being critical and judgemental, but like Jesus who retained his purity while going to the tax collectors and sinners and loving them. If we are full of this loving graciousness that is also pure and righteous, then our presence will have a purifying effect wherever we are.


But salt also has another effect, which is why today's nutritionists have had to give warnings. It brings out flavour. That's why some people put lots of salt on their food. In other words it makes the food more enjoyable. If salt as a preserving agent is a negative effect, this is now a very positive effect. To slightly change the emphasis of what we said above, we can do this by living and working in this world in such a way that we enhance the part of the life of the world that we touch. Is our block of flats, our street, our neighbourhood, our school or college, or our place of work, a better place because we are there? Does our presence   add to the quality of the life there? So often Christians are seen as killjoys and in offices or schools or colleges Christians have had a name for their exclusiveness and their negative attitudes to that place. Instead Jesus is saying we should be a blessing to have around. We should make life better by just being there. That's what salt does and that's what we should be doing.


To emphasise his point, that salt should be there in the world, effective in preserving and enhancing the world, he reminds them what happens to salt when it looses is flavour – it's thrown away. He's simply saying, don't let that be you. Keep your flavour, be out there in the open, preserving the goodness of God's world, and enhancing the world by the lovely presence of Jesus in you. Got the picture?







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Meditation No. 13

Meditation Title: Light


Mt 5:14-16 You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven .


Remember the order of what Jesus has been saying. He ended the ‘beatitudes' with a warning about persecution that his followers would experience, but they are not to think negatively about this. No, instead they are to be very positive and see that they are to be in the world have a purifying, preserving effect in the world, regardless of what the enemy seeks to bring against them. Having used the picture of salt to say this, he now adds a further picture to convey the same thing. Note first of all that as a good teacher Jesus uses repetition. To drive the point home he had spoken twice about persecution and now to drive the ‘positive' point home he uses two illustrations to ensure we don't miss what he is saying. The first was about salt, the second is about light.


Elsewhere he would say that he is the light of the world (Jn 8:12) but here he says we are the light of the world. If you have read the meditations in John's Gospel you will have seen our comments on light, so let's only do brief reminders here. The first thing light does is reveal. Without light there is darkness and you cannot see anything. Light reveals the world as it is. Christians are to reveal an alternative to the world that unbelievers know. They are to reveal the real world in relationship with God. Second, light shows the way. If you want to go somewhere but have no light you are lost. Christians are to reveal a purpose and meaning to life and are to reveal the way to receiving that. Those are basic things about light. Now let's see what else Jesus says here.


The interesting thing is that in these three verses he hardly explains what our ‘light' is. (We'll come to that in a minute). Most of what he says is about what you do with light. Just like a city on a hill is clearly visible, so a light out in the open is clearly visible. No, you don't put a light under a bowl. A light is for shedding light so putting it under a bowl would be silly. No, you put it on a stand where it can shed its light into the room. Do you see what Jesus is doing? He is making the point, after the instructions about persecution, that his followers are made to be out in the open, they are made to be seen, and so persecution must not make us forget that. This is such basic teaching that we probably all need reminding of this: we are made to be seen! This isn't just Christian leaders, this is every Christian, however young or however weak they feel. YOU are designed by God to be out in the open to be seen by the world! If we are living for Jesus, then don't be ashamed of it. Be seen! Let your light be seen!


Now what is our ‘light'? Jesus tells us. It is our good deeds. Yes, we so often think that Christians have to be constantly telling the good news, but the truth is bigger than that. Some attribute to St. Francis the saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” What he was saying was what Jesus is saying in these verses: let your lives, your acts, your deeds, be the thing that communicates God's love to the world around you. The ultimate aim is not that people say how wonderful you are, but they realise how wonderful God is. To achieve this we will talk about who we are and why we are, but it will be our deeds, our love, that opens up the conversations so that as Paul says, Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” ( Col 4:6).


Our sharing words ideally should come as a result of questions that are asked of us in response to our lives. There are many people who are hurting and wondering and long to have answers, but they are afraid of asking Pharisees in case they get condemned. When we approach people with love, care, compassion and total acceptance (remember what we said in the meditation on ‘The Merciful') they feel secure with us, so secure that they feel they can open up their lives, share their fears and ask their questions. It was your lifestyle of loving acceptance and gracious humility that opened the door for them. As we said in the previous meditation, is our block of flats, our street, our neighbourhood, our school or college, or our place of work, a better place because we are there? Are people blessed because we are around, or do they find a Pharisaical attitude in us, that speaks of arrogance (probably defensive because we are unsure of ourselves) and which seems standoffish?


These are the challenges of these simple verses. How much easier it is to hide away and be a nobody, but Jesus calls us to be somebody, a son or daughter of the Father in heaven, who is not ashamed of Him or of who we are. Some of us are naturally less outward going than others, but even we can let our light shine, even we will have opportunities to just love and bless those around us. Perhaps it won't be in such obvious ways as that strong, confident outward going Christian from church that you know, but it will be just as meaningful in your Father's eyes, because for you it costs more. Shine on. That's what you are designed for, that's how you work best. Be blessed and be a blessing!







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Meditation No. 14

Meditation Title: Fulfilling the Law


Mt 5:17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them


Jesus' ‘congregation' is made up of Jews. The Jews considered Abraham their father, but Moses as their great leader, the Lawgiver. Certain groups within their community almost idolized the Law, e.g. the Pharisees, while the common man simply acknowledged that the Law was part of their history. Yet Jesus has been speaking for a while and he has not mentioned the Law. He has not exhorted the people about aspects of the Law but has instead been speaking in far more general terms about the poor, the mourners, the meek, hungering for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, peacemakers and receiving persecution. He has just talked about salt and light, and there could be those of strong traditional background who might be thinking, “What is this? Where is the law? Where is our heritage? Is he throwing all that away?” That, I suspect, is why Jesus now speaks about the Law.


Before we move on to look in detail at what he says, we also need to note the modern perception in some Christian circles that Christians are not ‘under' the Law and therefore the Law has no place in their lives. We'll address that also in a minute.


As if reading the minds of his traditional listeners, Jesus now refutes the suggestion that he's come to abolish all that we know as the teaching of the Old Testament, what he sums up as the Law and the Prophets. Oh no, he says, I haven't come to do away with them, I've come to fulfil them. That must have raised a few eyebrows! Oh no, he continues, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (v.18). In other words, while this world continues not even a tiniest bit of the Law will be taken away until it's all been worked out by me. So strong is his assertion that he adds, Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” i.e. don't even dare to think about breaking God's Law or teaching others to do it. Seek to obey everything there.


When we observe Jesus life and ministry in those three years recorded by the Gospels, we find him constantly living according to the Law. Now the two questions must arise, what did Jesus mean by talking about fulfilling the Law and how does the Law relate to us as Christians today. To answer that we must consider just what the Law was.


First there were the Ten Commandments which were general laws for all people for all time. Look under the ‘Difficult Questions' of this web-site to see where we consider what life would be like if we lived opposite to them. No, they are general laws for all people, for all times, and apply to us today. We need them. Obey them!


Then there were the laws given to Israel to cover daily eventualities, what we might call criminal and civil law to bring about an ordered and peaceful society. For us today, there are two difficulties. First a number of things in those laws were within the context of the Hebrew basic agrarian society which simply do not ‘fit' modern society. Second, and more importantly, this was a society under God. To apply some of those things to a modern ungodly nation is simple unrealistic. There are those who make a good case for saying that the principles behind those laws are good principles and would be usefully built into our own legal system, and indeed some of them are. Now when Jesus brought us into his kingdom, it is clear that the summary of the Law still applies: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 22:37-39) Those two summarizing commands still apply to each of us. Thus we may find it difficult to apply some of the individual laws, but as Christians we must ask ourselves, is my life ordered by love for God and for my fellow man?


But there was yet a further large body of law – the ceremonial or sacrificial law. The purpose of this law was to lay down a way for dealing with sins and for reconciling sinners to God. When we read the book of Hebrews we find there that Jesus has, by his death on the Cross, completely fulfilled all that area of law, e.g. he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant ” ( Heb 9:15) and now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (v.26). Christ's death instigated a new covenant promised by God that fulfilled or worked out all the things of the old covenant, so we don't sacrifice again and again because Christ's death was the one-off sacrifice and God desires nothing more now, other than belief and obedience. As the writer to the Hebrews said, The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming” (Heb 10:1), and Jesus came to bring those ‘good things', all the fruits of salvation that came as a result of his death on the Cross. If you want to see more about them, go to the meditations on this site that are expressly about that.







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Meditation No. 15

Meditation Title: Righteousness


Mt 5:20   For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.


The world is full of people who feel guilty and yet try to cover it up. The world is full of people who would much prefer to be ‘nice' but find they are not. The world is full of people who are trying to be good. Some people try to be good simply to impress others. Other people try to be good to appease God. Having moral awareness is an expression of being a human being and therein is the problem. We have an awareness of right and wrong and then find we can't do the right, e.g. Paul in Rom 7:15 -19, and so we feel bad about ourselves.


The Pharisees were a conservative Jewish religious group who held high store on keeping the Law. They detailed and explained the Law and sought to keep all the details. Now, as we saw in the previous meditation, Jesus agreed that the Law should be kept – every bit of it! Now, in today's verse, he goes on and makes it worse. He takes the Pharisees and uses them and says that unless our righteousness is greater than their attempts at rule keeping, we aren't going to get into heaven. Now I suspect that that produced two possible reactions in Jesus' listeners, although Matthew is only concerned here with Jesus' teaching, not the reactions to it.


The first reaction, in those who desired to please God and live godly lives, would have been to think, “I must try harder!” but sadly all their trying harder would have failed. The other group would have been the majority who looked at the Pharisees and thought, “Well there's no way I can even keep up with them, let alone be better than them, so I might as well not try!”


Now these verses about the Law and about being righteous are the pivotal point of this sermon. Before these verses, Jesus had been speaking in general concepts, laying down principles for those coming into his kingdom and then living in his kingdom. Verses 3 to 16 are those kingdom principles. But Jesus has a problem; he is speaking to a very religious nation. In the distant past they had a living relationship with God and through that relationship came the Law, rules for living in covenant relationship with God. The problem was that they had failed in that relationship. They failed, felt guilty, offered sacrifices to atone for their failures, and then went out and failed again and felt more guilty and gave up. That made some of them seek God even more and there always had been a faithful remnant, but many others had turned from God. Yet even in Jesus' day, there was still this semblance of religiosity in the nation. They had the priesthood, they had the Temple and its sacrifices, and they had a variety of religious groupings – Pharisees, Sadducees etc. To release them into true righteousness, Jesus has to do a demolition job on this religious edifice, just as he has to do it on ours.


It is said that the Gospel is bad news followed by good news. The bad news, which is devastating for the religious person, is that we can't be good, however hard we try! We need to understand the purpose of the Law. Paul said it: I would not have known what sin was except through the law” (Rom 7:7) and he then goes on to explain how the Law made him conscious of his failure. Earlier in his letter had had said, The law was added so that the trespass might increase” (Rom 5:20), i.e. God brought in the Law, not only to give guidance but to reveal sinfulness. To the Galatians he wrote, So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith(Gal 3:24). That is the purpose of the Law, to show us our incapacity to keep God's rules and show us we need a Saviour, a deliverer.


So what is the righteousness that Christ is speaking about in our verse today? It is not righteousness from keeping the Law: no one is justified before God by the law (Gal 3:11) and no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” (Rom 3:20). There it is spelt out so clearly: if you try to keep the rules you fail and will not be right in God's eyes. The only way to be righteous is to receive God's way of salvation, which is by believing in Jesus: Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” (Rom 10:4)


All the way through this sermon Jesus will now be showing his listeners the standard that he has come to bring, and it's higher than simply rule keeping; it's heart changing! In doing this he will be helping the people realize that of themselves they cannot be right with God. They need God Himself to come and put them right and bring a heart change in them. They had a religious system that almost didn't need God. They could simply do their best under the Law, going to the Feasts and the Festivals, and if God wasn't there, it wouldn't matter! But that was not what God wanted. God wants a people who will come to Him, who will relate to Him. The first way we come to Him is in the awareness of our spiritual poverty (does that sound familiar!) seeking His forgiveness and seeking His help. Once that comes, it is a life of relationship, a life of interaction between Him and us. We can't have life without Him. That is what this is all about. If you are not sure about it, reread this meditation until you see it. Be free to live with His righteousness.







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Meditation No. 16

Meditation Title: Murder & Anger


Mt 5:21,22   You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, `Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, `Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, `You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.


Most of us would say, “Oh I could never commit murder! The 6th commandment would never need apply to me!” and there we might feel complacent, but Jesus gives us no room for such complacency. These two penetrating verses apply to every one of us. They start off a series of practical applications of the Law and we will find the formula being used by Jesus a number of times , “You have heard… but I tell you.”


The You have hear in this first teaching is about murder found, as we've already noted, in the 6 th of the Ten Commandments. The ‘add-on' anyone who murders will be subject to judgment is the interpretation of the general teaching of the Law in the Old Testament. So the command and consequence were fine, just what the Law said, but Jesus isn't going to leave it there, for murder is an outward action, and he is more concerned with what goes on in the heart, and particularly what goes on in the heart before the action comes about. This is so important that we really do need to take hold of this principle: actions come from heart thoughts. We think, we decide and then we do. The action is the end result of what has been going on inside you. Not only did Jesus know what went on inside the minds of those before him, but he teaches all of us to think about what we are thinking.


So what produces murder? Anger! Anger that has festered and grown until it bears the fruit of the action. We live in a day when there is very much anger. We have ‘road rage' which is the anger pouring out of frustrated drivers. We have anger in young people, the response to being abandoned by one or both parents in broken families. Anger is very real in our society and every now and then it spills over. Oh yes, we know the reality of what Jesus is talking about! You are happy about a murderer being judged, is what Jesus implies, as he then goes on, well I think anger should be judged similarly. Anger leads to violence, and to prevent that happening the anger needs condemning because unless it is judged it will overflow into violence.


You begin to see the point? Well let's press it further, Jesus implies. Raca is an Aramaic term of abuse, probably meaning ‘empty-head' or ‘block-head'. So if you abuse your brother that's just as bad, because on the inside, in your heart, you have allowed yourself to become violent in your thinking towards your brother, and that is wrong. You have denigrated him, and that means you deserve to answer for that, to the Supreme Court if necessary. Look, he continues, don't you see what is happening here. This is a progression and I've been taking it in the reverse direction to help you see what you do. Murder comes from anger, anger is a progression from an insult, and indeed even the most simple of insults, like, “You fool” is just a step along the path towards something worse. Once you start down this path, you may not be able to stop yourself and will end up in the fires of hell. (The Greek word here for ‘hell' is Gehenna which got its name from the constantly burning rubbish tip in the valley outside Jerusalem). If you go down this path, says Jesus, you could end up on the eternal rubbish tip! The warning is clear; act now and stop any violent way of thinking towards others before it leads to something worse. The truth is, of course, that to go down this path, step by step, we have to be resisting the convicting power of the Holy Spirit and resisting your conscience. To persist in anger means you are resisting God. Do you see what Jesus is doing here? He's said that he's all for the Law and has come to fulfil it, and then he takes an illustration of the Law and shows that while he's for that, in fact he wants his followers to go a lot further, and be concerned about what goes on inside of them.


So let's check it out; how do I think and feel about other people? Is there someone in my family or in my school, college, or workplace that I feel angry about? Jesus wants us to live at peace, knowing who we are and being blessed by that, and therefore at peace about other people. The question for many, is will we let him bring us to a place of peace, and take away the anger of frustration or hurt? Jesus doesn't want us to just look good on the outside, putting on a brave ‘Christian' face; he wants the inside to be brought to peace as well. Will you let him do that?







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Meditation No. 17


Meditation Title: Offerings and Upsets


Mt 5:23,24 Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.


Perhaps one of the reasons why, around the world, unbelievers are sometimes confused, or confirmed in their unbelief when they look at believers, is that in so many faiths people say one thing but live another. The temptation to be religious while living an unrighteous life is very strong. It costs to bring purity and righteousness to your life, it costs to ensure that your thinking is pure and right, it costs to ensure that in thinking and in deeds your relationships are right. Now again and again in these meditations we say consider the context, see how the verse or verses fits in with what has gone before.


This is particularly important when a verse begins ‘Therefore'. When ‘therefore' starts a sentence it means, because of what has gone before, this should now follow. In the verses we considered in the previous meditation, Jesus spoke of murder, anger and insults, warning of the slippery slope that starts with a denigrating comment. That is like the ground where anger can take root, and if that grows without being pulled out, it will bear the fruit of violence. It starts, said Jesus, in the mind, or in the heart, so deal with that before it has a chance to grow.


So, now as we move on, we find Jesus saying, if that is so and you realize you do have something against your brother, something where you realize you think badly of him, something that could build into anger or worse, then stop whatever you are doing and go and put it right. How many of us tolerate wrong thoughts or feelings about someone in our family or someone in our church? It should not be!


Now there needs to be a little wisdom applied here. It is possible that the family member or church member has said something completely unwittingly that has stayed with you and upset you. Now the probability is that you do not have to go and “have it out with them”. This is simply something for you to work at in your thinking, something for you to put right in your heart. How can you do that when the thing has been going around and around in your mind, stirring you up? The first thing to do of course is confess it to the Lord – tell Him about it. Bring it out into the open with Him and ask for His help to get rid of it. Next pray for that person who has irritated you. When we start praying for God to bless someone then our feelings for them start changing. I know of a man who was so irritated by a woman in the church that he was thinking of leaving. Instead he received this counsel and started praying for her and within a year they were married!!!! Finally start purposing to relate well with that person. Make a point of encountering them and being nice to them. It is as simple – and as difficult – as that.


But it is possible that you said something which caused division between the two of you. As a Christian you have a source of grace in Christ and so it is up to you to get that grace and go to the person you offended and in humility confess that what you said was wrong and then seek their forgiveness.


It may be that they said something thoroughly offensive that has upset you. The Biblical pattern is that you confront them in loving, gentle humility, seeking reconciliation. If you don't you have an ongoing unresolved situation that stops unity in the family or in the body of Christ, which grieves God.


Now it is interesting that Jesus puts remembering this conflict in the context of ‘going to church' – for them it was going to make an offering – because he is pointing out that even very religious people have this tendency of getting it wrong in relationships. You can be very ‘spiritual' and still get it wrong when it comes to relationships, but as far as Jesus is concerned, putting that relationship right is more important than appearing spiritual! This takes us back to what we said at the beginning, that unbelievers can be put off when they see that we are behaving just like them – unrighteously – and they know it about themselves but they don't expect it about us. And they are right! Jesus doesn't give us any leeway to make excuses for tolerating wrong relationships. Put them right; then be spiritual!


So, check it out, is there anyone that you have fallen out with in your thinking at least? Is there someone you just think badly about, where you need to adjust and change your thinking? Is there someone you have offended and need to go and apologise to? Is there someone who has offended you and who you need to lovingly, gently and graciously confront? Three situations that Jesus wants remedied and he is there, and his grace is there, to help you do that – then you can be spiritual!







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Meditation No. 18


Meditation Title: Adultery & Lust


Mt 5:27,28    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


If there is a sign that Britain or, to a lesser measure, the United States, have abandoned God and abandoned the Ten Commandments, the question of adultery is it! The seventh commandment (Ex 20:14) has been utterly abandoned. Adultery is simply marital infidelity. So abhorrent was adultery to God that it was one of the causes for capital punishment (Deut 22:22). How bizarre that sounds to modern man. When God designed man and woman He designed them to complement one another and to live in loyal, committed relationship (Gen 2:24). Until modern times, man was the clearly dominant partner and the commandment would thus have been largely for the protection of the woman. In today's age we have abandoned the commandment and so we are now seeing many “one parent families” struggling to cope, which is a euphemistic way of saying woman abandoned by their men to bring up their children on their own. So now we have many women either on social security seeking to make ends meet, or women struggling with a job or career while bringing up the children, with all the stresses that go with that. We are thus reaping the folly of having abandoned God's design and are desperately trying to justify why “It's all right.”


Now Jesus was speaking to a society that had not abandoned the commandment and thus he also speaks to the Christian community today. (The Seventh Commandment still speaks to the unbelieving community and they will be answerable to God for it.) When we considered Jesus teaching on murder, anger and insults, we also saw him teaching on dealing with the apparently minor issues lest they grow and become major issues. Although there is no indication of that in the present verse, it does very much apply. He is speaking predominantly to men, although in a so-called emancipated age, it almost certainly applies to women as well. Again Jesus is focusing on what goes on in the mind. Look, he is saying, it's not just the actual act of adultery that is wrong; it's the thought of it as well! If you look at a woman (or man) and have thoughts of desire, of what the two of you could do together, it's wrong. Why?


First, it is wrong because Jesus the Son of God, our Lord, says so. Second, it is wrong because your heart and mind are what the Bible calls ‘defiled' or ‘impure' or running contrary to God's will. It doesn't matter that it is ‘just' thoughts; it is contrary to God's will and therefore wrong! Third, it is wrong because it indicates either dissatisfaction with your own partner (which needs remedying) or a vulnerability to Satan's thoughts. Fourth, it is wrong because of what it can lead to. Where adultery takes place, it always is preceded by the thoughts of it. Yes, it will probably happen in small stages. First there is the look, then there is the simple flirtation, then there is the growing intimacy which eventually leads to the act of adultery. After the initial thought, unless you reject it immediately, there is always some minor action that indicates a wrongness of heart. David saw Bathsheba bathing (2 Sam 11:2). Did he immediately turn away? No, we read, David sent someone to find out about her.” (v.3) Why? Because he wondered what could happen – and it did – and he was answerable to God for it!


In this crazy age in which we live, we need to be alert to what is happening. When we hear of as many divorces taking place in the church as in the world, we really do need to listen to Jesus' words here. Yes marriages break down for a variety of reasons, but one of them is the thought of breakdown being acceptable, and that so often is accompanied by thoughts of someone other than your partner. This is adultery in Jesus' eyes. The question is not merely about God hating divorce, it is about God hating adultery and adultery that starts in the mind. Don't try and excuse it; it is sin and we're answerable to God for it. Don't say, “Well I'm a Christian and therefore God will forgive me because of Jesus death on the Cross.” Be careful, a man reaps what he sows (Gal 6:7). You may receive eternal forgiveness but God still holds us accountable for wilful, purposeful adultery. In His grace He can still bless your life, but there is so often a blight over such lives. I'm sorry if this sound hard, but this is the reality of wilfully ignoring God's commands. Sin is sin and if it is wilful, it brings fruits with it, even if later you genuinely repent. Forgiveness IS there, but so is the fruit so often that goes with the act.


The answer is, don't commit adultery. Work at your present relationship. Work to put it right. Let your partner be the one and only one you will contemplate being one with you. Work at bringing a restoration of your relationship if it has gone stale. Talk, get counsel, work and pray together. That is where God's blessing is. If you have wrong thoughts about another person, crucify those thoughts. Give them to God, ask Him to take them from you and then ensure you do NOTHING that allows them to stay and grow in your mind. Check your mind out, and get God's help.








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Meditation No. 19


Meditation Title: Radical Action


Mt 5:29,30 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.


It is at times like this that people ask silly things and say silly things. For instance people ask, do you believe the Bible literally? The answer is that some of it isn't meant to be taken literally, and it would only be a foolish person who would do so. Jesus has just been speaking about looking at a woman lustfully and is warning against letting yourself fall into sin. He wants to make a strong point, so he says something completely outlandish to catch our attention. If you have trouble with a part of your body, gouge it out or cut it off. Is Jesus literally advocating we harm ourselves physically? Does God want us to maim ourselves to avoid sin? Such a thought runs contrary to all other teaching in the Bible. Now if that is so, why is Jesus saying it?


The answer to that has to be as we suggested above: to catch our attention and to help us realize how serious he is about sin. There is a very real point here. In the pluralistic-thinking society we live in, we tend to write off sin and excuse people, blaming their background, their upbringing, or poverty, or something similar. Jesus doesn't make excuses; he calls sin, Sin! More than that, he clearly believes and wants us also to believe, that the result of unrestrained sin, is hell. We need to come to this realization if we have been lax about it in our thinking. Sin isn't something to be excused; it is the reason Jesus had to die, and it is the reason people go to hell if they reject Jesus' salvation. Twice in these verses, Jesus refers to hell.


It is for this reason that Jesus uses such radical language. If you find one part of your body is having such an effect on you that it leads you into sin, then get rid of it, otherwise it will be the cause of your eternal damnation, because one sin leads to another which leads to another, which leads to apostasy and complete turning from God. We must realize this, that sin leads to eternal death and we can't be casual about it. That is why Jesus says these horrific things.


Of course another reason why this is not to be taken literally, is because it's not actually just one eye that leads us to sin, or one hand. Cut out one and the other is still free to see wrong. No, the message is loud and clear: don't let yourself get led into sin by whatever means. If it is a matter of lust and adultery, as Jesus has just been saying, then simply make sure you don't go looking at women with virtually no clothes on. It's as simple as that. It's that act of the will that turns us to look at someone to which we want to say, “Cut it out!” not the eye. It's what goes on in the mind and in the will. If there is pornography on the TV, then turn it off and don't look at it. If any sight of sexuality ‘turns you on' don't look at it.


How many men wonder why they have impure or unclean thoughts all the time, yet are looking at girlie magazines or ‘adult' videos or even simple TV programmes where sex is shown? “Cut it out!” But it's not only the eyes. How about the mouths? How many women at work talk about men in sexual fantasy language? In every such case the mind is being filled with behaviour that is contrary to God's will. Is it any wonder that our country is known for its promiscuity?


Living for the present, means thinking, saying, and doing things that are contrary to God's design without any thought for eternity. In these verses Jesus tries to get us to think on an eternal level. Realise, he is saying, that what you do today has consequences. One sin leads to another and you have to live with the consequences of those sins. Take a common example. Girl ‘A' has a relationship and gets pregnant. She has an abortion and is blighted by guilt for the rest of her life. Girl ‘B' has a relationship and gets pregnant but has the baby. As good a mother as she may become, she nevertheless now has to care for this new little person and cannot perhaps enter into the career possibilities that had been there for her before. These are simply examples of consequences that have to be lived with. In the sexual realm they abound, things that we are stuck with because for a while we abandoned ourselves to unrestrained sin – face it, that's what it was!


Is there no hope in such situations? Of course there is, God's grace is always there to help but how much better if we had not gone down that path of abandonment to start with! That is what Jesus is saying here in these powerful verses, because not everyone can turn back and receive God's grace. Some will carry on down the path and hell is the end result. You can believe the Son of God or not. The choice is yours. Catch the powerful sense of Jesus' understanding about all this!








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Meditation No. 20


Meditation Title: Divorce


Mt 5:31,32    "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.


In an age that accepts cohabitation as normal and one in three marriages, it is said, ends in divorce, these words of Jesus sound almost old fashioned, yet we must remind ourselves that this is the all-wise Son of God speaking, and his words apply to all peoples at all times. We also need to see these verses in the broader teaching of the New Testament. From teaching about adultery in the verses we have already considered, it is a natural progression to move on to this aspect of relational marriage breakdown.


The Law of Moses permitted divorce: Jesus replied, " Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard(Mt 19:8). Note that he permitted not suggested divorce and the reason was because of the hardness of people's hearts. In other words, if the couple suffering marital breakdown were too hard hearted to receive counsel and be reconciled, then the only option was divorce.


The basic law of the Old Testament allowed a man to divorce his wife if he found something “indecent about her” – Deut 24:1 – presumably signs that she had been previously unfaithful, possibly had a STD etc. Where that happened the procedure was for the man to write a certificate of divorce and give it to her, probably before a public official. Thus the separation was legalised.


Now when Jesus said, It has been said, `Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.'” he was highlighting the Pharisees' emphasis on right procedure. They were concerned about right application of the Law, but Jesus was concerned about the reality of the situation. On another occasion when the Pharisees question Jesus about divorce we find, Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator `made them male and female,' and said, `For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." (Mt 19:4-6).


There Jesus took them back to the beginning and restated God's desire for a couple to stay together for life. Later, when Israel were constituted as a nation, Moses gave them the Law from God that permitted divorce as the lesser of two evils. In other words God doesn't want divorce, that's not within His design criteria for the human race, but where in our sinfulness we get into such a bad situation that the relationship cannot be redeemed, then divorce is the only way out to formalize what has already taken place in reality.


Jesus is concerned with the reality of the situation, not so much the procedural elements of it. He seems to put aside the unclear ‘indecency' cause for a divorce and pushes the cause right back to the beginning when he speaks of marital unfaithfulness meaning that the wife (in this case) has broken the marriage vows by committing adultery. If she, in this case, has already broken up the marriage, then divorce is simply formalizing the reality of what has happened. Two things should be noted here. First, because in Moses time the man was the family leader, the Law spoke of him taking the initiative because of the woman's uncleanness, but the reality must surely be that the same applies now if the man commits adultery. Second, although in God's sight divorce is permissible, that isn't to say that it must happen and in fact Jesus' words in Mt 19 suggest divorce should not take place until it has become clear that with all the counsel offered, the couple are too set in their positions to let reconciliation be brought. For Christians at least, there should be an openness to receive counsel. Where there has been a one-off act of unfaithfulness and there is genuine repentance, then forgiveness and reconciliation through the grace of God, should hopefully be the order of the day.


As we've seen, divorce was only permissible if there had been (established) adultery so the woman was already an adulterer. What Jesus went on to say was that if you divorce where there hasn't been adultery, you simply open the door for the woman to go out and commit adultery because in God's eyes she shouldn't be divorced (or isn't divorced in reality) and so any relationship she has with another man is therefore adulterous.


What is the summary of Jesus teaching? First, don't get divorced if at all possible. Second, if the marriage has ceased to be because one partner has left and is committing adultery with another and there is no hope of them coming back, then divorce is simply formalizing the reality of what has happened. In anything less than this situation, seek for reconciliation, seek counsel and help and keep on seeking it. Why? Because this is God's plan and even where there has been relational breakdown, apart from the long-term adultery situation above, with God's grace available to us, with His help we can come to an even better place than we have ever known before. This is the possibility with Christ's help, and will bring even greater glory to him.








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Meditation No. 21


Meditation Title: Oaths


Mt 5:33,34,37    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 ..... Simply let your `Yes' be `Yes,' and your `No,' `No'


Truth and justice are important characteristics in the life of the people of God as seen in the Bible. They are things that God is especially concerned about, because truth is all about reality, which counteracts deception, and justice is all about treating people fairly, especially in a fallen world where people do wrong things. To try to reinforce truth and justice we often invoke oaths or promises. It is a way of trying to bring a measure of guarantee to what is said or done, things we will be held to. Is it significant that Jesus speaks about oaths immediately after speaking about divorce? Marriage is of course a covenant and a covenant is an agreement often involving a promise or oath. In the marriage service today we so often covenant to live together forever in sickness and in health and so on, yet our divorce statistics indicate these are words which have little meaning for many people who give up on the covenant as soon as it appears difficult.


The Law of Moses said, Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God.” (Lev 19:12) and, When a man makes a vow to the LORD or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.” (Num 30:2) and, “ If you make a vow to the LORD your God, do not be slow to pay it, for the LORD your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin(Deut 23:21 ) and so Jesus summarises this in our verse today.


There were two problems in Jesus' day about oaths, as there are today: first people used oath frivolously, just adding them to a sentence to add force to it, and second they categorised oaths so that some were less important than others and so it didn't seem to matter so much if some were broken. Oaths involving the name of God were considered binding but others were not. Thus the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, over the years, had formulated the process so that they were more concerned with the form than the reality. Thus it was that Jesus, as he has done already a number of times, is aiming to touch reality and strip away the unreal form that had replaced reality.


So we find Jesus coming up with this simple injunction: don't swear or make oaths. Tell the truth always, is Jesus' demand. If you say ‘Yes', mean ‘yes'. If you say ‘No', mean ‘no'. Don't try to be evasive or deceptive but be open and above board in all that you say or do. Then he goes on to show why having different oaths is meaningless. If you swear by heaven OR earth, they both belong to God, or by a holy place because that belongs to Him. Don't even swear by yourself, he adds, because you can't change anything by that, so that just using words is meaningless.


In this somewhat innocent sounding injunction is found tremendous importance for the Christian. The truth is all-important, is what Jesus is saying, so don't try to hide it or distort it by invoking some form of words. The truth is what it is, so speak it, live it and be completely open in it. Lies have no place in our lives. Deception has no place in our lives. Truth and honesty are to be key features by which we are known. For the sake of appearance and the frailty of the world, don't be afraid, when required, to follow the practice of the law court and give the oath they require, but know in your heart, that is for their sake and you will tell the truth always, anyway!








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Meditation No. 22


Meditation Title: Retaliation


Mt 5:38,39  "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.


Retaliation is the most natural response to being offended or being abused or attacked. In establishing the new nation of Israel, the Lord knew this and built into the Law the most fundamental laws of justice possible: if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” (Ex 21:23 -25). Note what we've said there: that is basic justice. If you do something to harm someone else, that harm will be done to you. You can't get any more basic than that! But that law was also designed to limit the level of retaliation, so that the violence did not escalate. We might say that the punishment was designed to fit the crime and not go beyond it. That was the basic law. Now in Jesus' day there was a school of thinking that saw this law as grounds for personal and private vengeance. It had, for some, become the expected thing, to bring physical violence to bear when violence has been done to you. However, all that does is create further hostile feelings in the family of the person who has had this violent vengeance exacted on them. It was an ongoing war of hostility.


Jesus breaks into this with the most radical of commands: don't resist that evil person who wants to hurt you, just take it! Wow? Are you serious? If it was left like that it would seem difficult if not impossible, but Jesus follows it up, several verses later, with the command to “love your enemies”, which we'll look at tomorrow. The Pharisee would look at just the physical actions that Jesus is speaking about and object, but Jesus is talking about an attitude or heart expression.


So what is he saying? Well he gives three examples of not resisting and if you don't resist, you go along with it. It you are struck once, let them strike you again (v.39). If you are sued for one item, let them have two (v.40). If they make you go one mile, go two (v.41). This is the staggering law of love. At the beginning of these meditations we noted that people think these things that Jesus is saying are impossible to do. They are – unless you get God's help! If you try doing this sort of thing in your own strength you may do and initially be able to conform to the required action, but your heart will rise up in frustration, wanting to wreak vengeance, and get justice. No, you can only do this as you turn to Jesus and seek his help, his grace, to not focus on what they are doing to you, but to have your heart filled with love for them.


We live in a threatening, and therefore fearful, age and the tendency is to see violent groups as those who the Law ought to sort out! We want the Old Testament law to apply to them and justice to be seen to be done. Yet Jesus calls us to see behind the violence and see behind the hostility in whatever form it comes, and see the incredibly needy person there, who needs God, needs salvation. No, it's not to excuse their behaviour. Call sin, sin. But it is to recognize that that sinner is in major need of Christ. If they continue down the path they are pursuing they may well do worse and they may well end up in destroying themselves. Yes, all that may happen, but we're not to relish that possibility; we're to seek their salvation and as we do that we will take our eyes off the offence to the possibilities of God's love being conveyed to them and being received.








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Meditation No. 23


Meditation Title: Loving Enemies


Mt 5:43,44    You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you


In the previous meditation we looked at Jesus' teaching that said to go beyond the physical expression of bringing justice to those who harm you and have a heart concern for them as you seek God's help to help you love them. Now we come to the central ‘bull's eye' of Jesus' target for the moment. He's spoken about covenant breaking in marriage, truth evasion using second-rate oaths, and then not wreaking justice where harm has been done. In each case there is another party who is either potentially harmed or brings harm. So if your marriage partner abandons you, you are harmed. If someone promises you something and then fails to deliver, you are harmed. If someone abuses you, you are harmed. The result in each case is that when you are harmed you will have a negative attitude towards that other person.


The Jewish interpretation of the Law allowed you to hate someone you now consider your enemy (because they ‘harmed' you). Originally it had applied only to enemies of the nation, but it came to be accepted in respect of anyone who now became ‘your enemy'. That was just one of those things that came to be accepted but the Law actually said, Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the LORD.” (Lev 19:18 ). There wasn't mention of hating enemies and, in fact, seeking revenge or bearing a grudge were forbidden, so theoretically hating enemies shouldn't happen anyway, but ‘hate' as a general attitude had become acceptable in certain circumstances. The Jews were quite happy with the ‘Love your neighbour' bit; that was easy!


So Jesus comes and challenges us to think about what is real. What was God's heart intention when He gave them this part of the Law? Surely it was to bring peace and harmony. So how do you bring peace and harmony to enemies? You become reconciled to them, and because that is sometimes difficult to achieve you first pray for them, and before you can first pray for them you have to have a good heart attitude towards them. Love is at the heart of everything else that Jesus instructs us to do and so this is no exception. When you think of someone as an enemy, take them to the Lord and ask Him to change your heart to a heart of care and compassion for them, and out of that will flow love. When you have a sense of love for them you will pray for them.


Jesus even gives them an additional motivation: that you may be sons of your Father in heaven (v.45). God's desire is reconciliation, peace, harmony and unity among people and if you seek those same things you will be acting as one of God's children, expressing His same characteristics. You may see a note in your Bible that after “love your enemies” some later manuscripts include bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you.” Those words would certainly harmonise with God's heart. When someone says something negative to you, love them and say good back. Those who are against you, do good to them, bless them in action. Those are ways of bringing change to them, and that is what God wants. If we struggle with these things, it means we haven't yet caught the heart of Jesus' teaching which is don't focus on outward acts, get a heart change, and that only comes as we seek Him. The Law and the teaching always do the same thing: they drive us back into the arms of God for transformation. May that be so!








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Series Theme:   Sermon on the Mount Meditations

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Meditation No. 24


Meditation Title: Be Perfect?


Mt 5:48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect


If some of us have struggled with the Beatitudes and the Sermon generally, then this little command must really cause upset! Well let's see it in context first of all and then in the wider context of the teaching of the whole New Testament. Back in verse 20 Jesus set a very high standard of righteousness for Christians – higher than the rule keeping Pharisees. He then worked through a number of life issues showing that what went on in the heart was the critical issue. Righteousness starts in the heart. Along the way he reminded us that we are children of God and we should therefore reflect the nature of our heavenly Father. Now he is saying, “Be like your heavenly Father, and because He is perfect, express His perfection.”


This may sound daunting but in reality it is quite simple. God is first and foremost perfect in His very being. We might talk about a ‘whole' personality as against a damaged or warped one. We speak about ‘wholeness' and think of a person who is not lacking in personality or character. They think aright, they are emotionally well adjusted and they are socially mature, able to relate well to others. God is all of this, and the call is therefore, first of all, for us to become whole or complete people, people at peace with who they are in God's design. Now of course, when we became Christians we received God's Holy Spirit so we actually have within us a measure of His perfection, His wholeness and His completeness, and when we allow Him to lead us, we will be living and acting with that same measure of perfection, wholeness and completion.


If “being whole” is the starting point, letting all our thoughts, words and deeds be an expression of that is the practical expression of righteousness. In God's eyes we have been made righteous through the work of Jesus on the Cross, but we each know that we fall short of perfection so often in our day to day living. We take our eyes off Him, we try to live life in our own strength and wisdom and we get it wrong. This “be perfect” is therefore also a target for which we are aiming, a long-term target which will never be fully achieved this side of heaven – but it is something that we aim for nevertheless.


When we were born again (Jn 3:3) we received God's Holy Spirit and part of His role is to inspire us, to envision us, to guide and direct us. He knows what is the best thing to do in every situation and as we allow Him to lead us in each circumstance we will be perfect, we will be living out God's perfect will as He leads. Of course it is an act of faith to believe that this is happening and we can be mistaken at any point in time, but ultimately we have to learn to be sensitive to the Spirit, believing in His word, and then guided by His Spirit, and then we trust that we are moving according to His desires, and to the measure we do that we will be perfect, just like our heavenly Father.


The Amplified Version expounds ‘perfect' by adding, “that is grow into complete maturity of godliness in mind and character.” Godliness is being like God and when we allow Him to lead and guide us, we will thus be godly. Do you see what we have been saying in all this? In one sense we will never reach total perfection in the unity of the way we live, but as we conform to Jesus' teaching and allow his Holy Spirit to lead us, individual acts will be perfect in as far as their origin is in heaven, their inspiration is in heaven, their direction and enabling come from heaven, and thus come from and are brought about in and through us by God. Be led, be empowered, be perfect!