Church Discipline and Restoration Through the Ages

Introduction
Throughout history, the concept of church discipline has been challenging to properly implement in the original intent. It is often deemed barbaric or misunderstood by the secular world and Christians alike, and as a result is often avoided at all costs in this culture. While prescribed in the Bible by Jesus and alluded to by Paul and Peter, there is not a clear model or full example to detail what constitutes a sin egregious enough to suspend mercy and how to gauge a repentant heart. Therefore, varying rules have been structured from the early church onward to answer these silent gaps; depending on the culture or varying commitment or understanding of holiness, this process has been misunderstood or misinterpreted for power or promotion of a sect. Even under the best intentions of soul restoration, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish an unrepentant heart and an overzealous religious group.
This paper will seek to review the biblical model and review the qualifications and original intent, as well as briefly review how church discipline was viewed or implemented since that time. The execution or avoidance of discipline has a strong correlation to community identity and the general opinion of the church. The Western church faces many challenges in implementing proper church discipline given the repeated history of abuses and the rise of individualistic humanism; these two extremes of corrupting power or the lack of community value are consistent foils to proper church discipline.
Scriptural Foundation for Church Discipline
The basis for church discipline arises from the New Testament which identifies a basic outline of steps for conflict resolution and sin management. Jesus laid out a process whereby someone identified as a brother in the family of God must go to another brother or member who has sinned against him. This is a private discussion to show the error that occurred in hopes of reconciliation with the person and with God. If this is unsuccessful, they are to take one or two witnesses and make a second attempt. If the offender refuses to repent, it should be taken to the church body. If he refuses to repent, treat him as a pagan. (Mt. 18:15-17). Jesus provided this authority to the church body to exclude an unrepentant person from the community of believers.
Paul expounded on this to indicate the church ought to stand against those people who are divisive or quarrelsome, or for doctrinal errors. (Rom. 16:17). Paul indicated there was a point where the unrepentant would be put out of the church assembly or avoided “so that he might feel shame.” (2 Thess. 3:14). This was done for the goal and point of reconciliation and repentance. In the Scriptures, the Church was given the authority to bind up on earth that which would be bound in heaven. (Mt. 18:18). Heaven stands behind the action steps taken by the church when done under correct motivations. There is an element of judgment and discernment believers are to have and a level of accountability that is required in the biblical church.
While there are not any clear practical models in the Bible, Paul noted the divisions occurring in the Corinthian church and one individual who was living a sexually immoral lifestyle that the church was not addressing. Paul implored them to “hand the man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed, and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.” (1 Cor. 5:5). Paul further advised the church to dissociate with anyone who claims to be a Christian but in known for a sinful lifestyle; “expel the wicked man from among you.” (1 Cor. 5:11-13). Paul wrote “Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.” (1 Tim. 5:20). Paul references the man in Corinth again in 2 Corinthians, indicating that he was restored back to the faith; his punishment was sufficient, and the church body ought to receive him again fully. (2 Corinthians 2:7-8).
Confusion may be linked to not fully understanding the concept of membership to a local body and what the church was intended to be. The church is translated Ekklesia in Greek, which is an ordinary term for “assembly”. However, in the Septuagint, there are two Hebrew words used for God’s people in the Old Testament. Edah is a term that refers to the permanent community into which one was born. Qahal is specific to those who have heard the call and are following it. When translating these two words into Greek, Qahal was translated as Ekklesia every time, while Edah was translated Sunagoge. Understanding these different concepts helps us see that the idea of the New Testament church involved “meaningful, covenanted church membership and the type of accountability reflected in redemptive church discipline.” Misunderstanding the spectrum and function of the church as too broad/universal or too narrow has been the cause of many issues.
The New Testament focuses on the underlying motivation of love. The gospel is not a law, and yet Jesus commanded His followers to strive for perfection or maturity. Jesus contrasted the life of sin as evidenced by evil deeds and understood the spiritual battle and temptations facing mankind. And yet His love and the gift of salvation was not meant to be performance-based or driven by acts for earning His love. As we strive to follow Christ and the lawgiver within our heart, our actions must be in line with our professed faith.

History of Church Discipline
Early Church Model
The structure and form of the church was still coming together within the first few centuries after the death of the apostles. Disparate ideas swelled to the surface and councils were formed to sort through heresy and agreement on the fundamentals. The writings of early church fathers emphasized concepts of unity, holiness, and submission to the leaders and church community in the sight of God. The writings from Clement indicated the importance of holiness in terms of moral purity and avoidance of sin, both as individual and group concept. “Let our whole body, then, be preserved in Christ Jesus; and let every one be subject to his neighbor.” The writings of the Didache advised “everyone who comes to you in the name of the Lord must be welcomed. Afterward, when you have tested him, you will find out about him, for you have insight into right and wrong.” This depicts a tight-knit community who used spiritual discernment after being fully introduced to a new member or visitor through a time of testing.
By the fourth century, early leaders appeared to have strict systems in place and policies whereby sinners received varying degrees of public punishment based on their public sins. All church discipline was under the authority of the local bishop; restoration was not simple and only with consent of the bishop. The early church dismissed those in a publicly sinful lifestyle or those who promoted heresy or refused to follow church doctrine; repentant sinners were not allowed to partake in the sacraments and begged for mercy outside the church. Tertullian wrote on sin and penance and believed there was but one chance after baptism to remain sinless. He was concerned about the growing laxity in mainstream church at that time, and wrote to combat those ideas of a universal church where accountability was not appropriate. He named seven sins of idolatry, blasphemy, murder, adultery, fornication, false-witness and fraud that required action and full compliance for a member of the church. He described Christians who committed sin and strayed from “the rule of our teaching” cease to be counted Christians among us… it is a notable foretaste of judgment to come, if any man has so sinned as to be banished from all share in our prayer, our assembly, and all holy intercourse.” Unfortunately during this timeframe, many schisms occurred and crises for the church to combat. The Council of Nicaea in 325 AD was the first ecumenical council that came together to settle matters of doctrine as a group, called together by Constantine who held only secular interests in this proceeding. They deemed Arianism to be a heresy, condemning and exiling Arius and his followers. Only 300 years after Christ, the churches were struggling with the practical and theological questions that still grasp the church today.
Reformation Period
The Middle Ages brought about the merging power of church and state. In this corrupted union, there were forced conversions that brought people into the church who were not invested in developing their faith. Laypersons were uninformed and the church was corrupted by power. Discipline or ex-communication was offered freely to those who threatened the power, not based on biblical principles. Christianity “was no longer an ecclesia pura, a sect of the holy and the elect, but a corpus permixtum, a ‘catholic’ Church geared to mass conversions and institutionally endowed with extensive powers of sacramental grace and redemption.” By the end of the Middle Ages, membership in the church was nearly always Orthodox or Catholic, though some sects outside of that existed. The church was shifting toward use of private discipline and hearing of private confessions. The sacrament of penance became “perpetual rather than a one-time channel of forgiveness.” This turned into a money grab as the corrupt church promised forgiveness or lessened punishments based on monetary exchanges. This sale of indulgences was a primary factor in Martin Luther’s stand against the catholic Church, opening the way for Protestantism.
Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and other leaders during this era reevaluated what God intended for His church and all wrote that an emphasis on church discipline and true repentance was necessary. During this time of revitalization, adherence to sacraments was a priority; discipline involved disallowing fellowship in those sacraments and sometimes civil fines. From this period of division came the Anabaptists and other groups who sought to return to the models in Scripture for purifying the church and striving for holiness. These reformed churches were given local authority to impose church discipline on its members; in this era, societies and churches were closely bonded and societies often shared common interests of purity. Puritans created a “Half-Way Covenant” to allow visitors to attend services, learn more without full membership judgment or benefits. This is closely aligned to a modern concept of the church whereby services are viewed primarily as an outreach to the lost.
Rise of Individualism and Modern Age
While the church was returning to its roots, a new age of technology and scientific advancement was also dawning. The Scientific Revolution and Age of Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries promoted human secularism and would begin the separation of church and state. Continuing forward to the modern era, science or intellectualism would be pitted against traditional religion as advancement theories were promoted in schools with purposeful intention of removing God from the equation. Relativism would reign with religious activity deemed archaic, especially the idea of shaming or excommunicating someone for their personal beliefs. Western culture deemed the individual conscience as superior to the collective. The churches by mid-twentieth century had lost the concept of church covenants and church discipline “virtually disappeared” with few exceptions. As the church seeks to win the lost and spread new revival experiences, church discipline became a hindrance to these new goals. As technology advances, people are further isolated from true community and have a farther gap to bridge to return to the Bible. Pride and lawsuits or slander are prevalent for those who feel they have been “wronged” by the church. The church culture is varied, with many different brands and organizations with no consistent idea on grace and proper church discipline. True biblical communities are not viewed positively by standards of the wisdom of man, and God’s grace and mercy are often the extent of what people hear in the pews of those seeking quantity of their flock.

Conclusion
We are on a path of separation from the original intent that cannot be resolved
easily or quickly, although church discipline has never been easy or without struggles. In a post-modern era that values tolerance, subjective truth, and questioning authority, it is a challenge to call people back to the Bible and to true community. Damage remains from the past through the events in history that joined the institution of the church with the state and culture to bring atrocities and evil to the world. The compromises and errors of the pastchurch and the advancement of Western society created a fracture and split to the churchstill seen today. Power and pride are consistent human issues that will always collide withthe fundamentals of Christianity and the gospel. The whole of Christendom will not be able or willing to implement church discipline, but the Spirit stirs the hearts and minds of those who are drawn to Christ. Those individuals are more likely to be receptive to the feedback of fellow believers and respected leaders. This requires a return to the basic law of love as we develop relationships with other Christians built on love, humility and unity with the Spirit and Word.
Additionally, the rise of individualism and loss of value in community has caused great loss to the church that God intended. When church members do not commit their lives to each other in efforts of accountability, there is loss to the kingdom efforts and holiness of the church. In an era where matters of dispute are settled in court or the court of public secular opinion, the steps taken for discipline are fewer and far between. The church’s God-given authority to “bind or loosen” on earth and in heaven is completely overlooked or diminished. (Matt. 18:18). A new era of true revival and repentance is needed in this culture to return to the practices of discipline and to live in holy reverent fear of the Almighty. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Prov. 9:10).

Bibliography
Bradbury, John P. “Non-Conformist Conscience? Individual Conscience and the Authority of the Church from John Calvin to the Present.” Ecclesiology 10, no. 1 (January 2014): 32–52. doi:10.1163/17455316-01001004.Bryant, Joseph M. “The Sect-Church Dynamic and Christian Expansion in the Roman Empire: Persecution, Penitential Discipline and Schism is Sociological Perspective.” The British Journal of Sociology 44, no. 2 (1993): 303-39. Accessed August 15, 2020. Doi: 10.2307/591221.
Clement, I Clement Epistle In vol. 1 of The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 1. Edited by Philip Schaff. 1886–1889. 14 vols. Repr. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1994.
Forret, Jeff. The Limits of Mastery: Slaveholders, Slaves, and Baptist Church Discipline, American Nineteenth Century History, 2017. doi: 10.1080/14664658.2017.1278833.
Hammett, John S. and Benjamin Merkle. Those Who Must Give an Account A Study of Church Membership and Church Discipline. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2012.
Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960.
Latourette, Kenneth Scott. A History of Christianity. New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1953.
Mark, Joshua J. “The Medieval Church.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified June 17, 2019. https://www.ancient.eu/Medieval_Church/.
Mentzer, Raymond A. “Morals and Moral Regulation in Protestant France.” The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 31, no. 1 (2000): 1-20. Accessed July 19, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/206794.
Parker, Charles H. and Gretchen Starr-Lebeau, eds. Judging Faith, Punishing Sin: Inquisitions and Consistories in the Early Modern World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. Accessed August 14,2020. ProQuest Ebook Central.
Cyril C. Richardson, Cyril C. ed. Didache: The Library of Christian Classics: Early Christian Fathers. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1953. Accessed: https://archive.org/details/LCC1_ECF/page/n175/mode/2up

Book Review: “The Making of the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message” by A.J. Smith

The Making of the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message. By A. J. Smith. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2008, 201pp. + xi, $31.00.
This book described the events and conflicts that led to a committee called to reevaluate the foundational doctrinal statement of faith drafted in 1925 that united the Baptist denomination through the changes of modernism at that time. The era leading up to this committee pinned university against local churches as professors were promoting new lines of thought in conflict with traditional understanding. A. J. Smith identified his thesis as proving that Herschel Hobbs, President of the Southern Baptist Convention, worked to avoid a split within the community of believers by broadening some of the doctrinal statements of faith in a way that also satisfied the conservative base. In this process, they affirmed the need for a confession of faith to hold the body together while confirming that each individual soul was responsible to God for their faith in balance within the concept of soul competency. Smith’s dissertation was thorough in methodology but lacking in the resolution.
Chapter 1 and 2 provided a clear overview of the book and rising tension between the conservative Southern church ideology in opposition to the progressive thought of the university. Publications from professors were alarming to the conservative churches specifically regarding apostasy and the inerrancy of Scripture. Elliot published a book that questioned the literal interpretation of Genesis, and this brought about vocal opposition to material that did not reflect the core beliefs of the movement. This was a path headed toward irreconcilable differences.
Chapter 3 noted external pressures and political issues going on in the world that affected the church. The nation elected the first Catholic President and was dealing with the Civil Rights Movement. There was an ecumenical movement toward unity over doctrine, and all churches were facing rampant materialism in a prosperous nation and the subsequent decline in Spiritual priority for much of the country. In an age of uncertainty, this council received letters asking them to address the “doctrine of Scripture, security of the believer and the nature of the church” considering the ecumenical movement in the land. On the other hand, the committee wanted to respond to the purpose of the creed to prevent it from becoming a tool of divisiveness. Chapter 4 discussed the balance of individual freedom of belief and the corporate doctrine that united the church. Three areas that unified the early Baptist churches were Scripture, basic covenants, and confessions.
Chapter 5 discussed the concept of “soul competency” in an age of enlightenment that diminished the concept of the church in community and created an individual-focused culture. Personal experience was prioritized or made equal to Scripture in some cases. Some argued a creed or confession was unnecessary outside the Word of God while others felt it was unnecessary due to the priority of individual freedom of interpretation, so this topic had to be considered when discussing work on a corporate confession.
The remainder of the book discussed the committee that Hobbs called together and the input from those who reviewed the document. The book detailed drafts and input that formed the final product. Compromises were made to broaden the scope of certain areas, while reaffirming the fundamentals that held everyone together. While the original task was to reevaluate the doctrinal statement, some arguably significant changes were made to the confession, including watering down the idea of Scripture as record of revelation and not pure revelation in and of itself. There were also changes made to the meaning of baptism and the language of the Lord’s Supper in fruit of the vine as opposed to wine.
A strength of this writing was the author’s clear purpose and process of explaining the setting and need for a committee on these core issues of faith at this point in history. He cited examples and quotes from all perspectives, along with the socio-political undercurrents to provide a clear picture of the conflict. Through the details provided, it was clear this committee sought input and took the task seriously.
In consideration of weaknesses of this work, Smith presented the school administrations as entities who prioritized the preservation of intellectual freedom for their professors. The professors therefore became adept at “double talk” to manipulate their church audiences through semantics. Given that conclusion, and understanding the changes made were subtle yet significant leads one to conclude that the scholars had more influence on the process than what it appeared. The subcommittees who drafted the new confession were reviewed by faculty committees within each Seminary, however this influence on the final product was not able to be reviewed or considered.
Lastly, Smith was not clear on the impact of the council or the resolution. The new confession compromised in some critical areas of the church doctrine to appease the modern thinking within the University. It was not clear how this affected the relationship between the growing tension of these two entities. In some regards, the confession appeared to be a compromise of semantics, which undermined the real or perceived threat of heresy the churches feared. The conclusion alluded to the fact that this was outside the scope of the author’s purpose, however to someone outside the Baptist denomination, this could have been accomplished in brief summation. To the point that the universities were endorsing questionable theology, it seems this committee’s action was a reconciliatory band aid on greater issues that truly needed to be addressed within the denomination. Some could argue this confession may have changed major elements of doctrine of the church at that time, which begs more answers than are provided. Although Smith identified his thesis as proving that Hobbs worked to avoid the split in the church, he offered little space in defending whether it was a successful endeavor or not.
In conclusion, Smith provided many details about the Committee, confession and situation that necessitated the review. The book was well written and is a testament to the men who worked with diligence to unify the church at a time of upheaval.

Exegesis of Galatians 4:21-31: Two Covenants

Biblical Text
  Galatians 4:21-31, NIV
21 Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says?
22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman.
23 His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise.
24 These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar.
25  Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.
26  But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.
27  For it is written: “Be glad, barren woman,
    you who never bore a child;
shout for joy and cry aloud,
    you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
    than of her who has a husband.”
28 Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise.
29  At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now.
30  But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.”
31  Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman .
               Introduction
This passage of Galatians 4:21-31 utilized the story of Sarah and Hagar to contrast two covenants by use of purposeful allegory. This was done to help the audience recognize the superior covenant they possessed through faith in Christ Jesus and give up the rituals of circumcision and adherence to the Torah or Abrahamic covenant. Paul implored the Galatians to change their mentality about the things of God from mandated adherence to the law to a Christ-centered and faith-based approach to salvation.
                                                  Contextual Analysis
Galatians was an epistle written by the apostle Paul to a group of churches in the Galatian region in Central Asia Minor. The letter was written approximately A. D. 55-56, likely at the end of Paul’s third missionary journey . Paul had established these churches during his first missionary visit, between A. D. 45-48. He conducted follow up visits during his second and third missionary journeys, circa A. D. 50-54, to continue to spread the gospel and encourage those churches . The churches in this region originated from pagan roots, evidenced in Paul’s experience from Acts 14:8-20 when the people in Lystra attributed healing to the gods Zeus and Hermes. “The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to offer sacrifices to them at the city gates. Jewish people came to the city from Antioch and stoned Paul in that place.” In Galatians, Paul wrote to them, “formerly when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods” (Gal 4:8). The pagan culture at that time in that region worshiped gods such as Diogenes, a punitive angry god that required ritual purity to be appeased. They also worshiped “the great mother goddess” of Anatolia and other false deities they believed demanded a life of piety to keep the peace and bring propitiation to the gods.  There were some regional variations of pagan worship, but all commonly accepted the practice of ritual purity. Paul presented the gospel during his first missionary visit, which was accepted by some and the churches were started. There were subsequent Christian missionaries who continued to practice Judaism (Judaizers) who presented ideas that Christianity also demanded circumcision and adherence to the schedule of festivals and feasts. These ideas likely resonated with the Galatians based on their former understanding of how a god would demand outer rituals. Self-mutilation was popular amongst the pagan to appease the gods. Paul wrote this letter to the Galatians to correct the ideology of a works-based faith in tradition of Jewish law that infiltrated those specific churches. He noted “Some were deserting the gospel and turning to a different gospel- which is no gospel at all” (Gal. 1:6-7). It was imperative for him to send the message that the gospel of Christ stands alone, apart from manmade requirements that enslave the heart and corrupt the gospel of freedom through Christ.
  From a literary perspective, this book is considered a Pauline epistle, or a letter written by Paul. Throughout this passage, Paul utilized allegory and contrast, cause and effect, and question and answer to appeal to a change of their mindset. He used a story that involved emotionally charged concepts of slavery, barrenness, mothers and sons, heirs, and promise; he also appealed to the Galatians as brothers and used the pronoun “we” throughout to garner mutual brotherhood and explain the message he endorsed. When the elements of his contrast between Hagar and Sarah are outlined, it appears he could have used a chiasm, however the way he presents the information does not unfold symmetrically so this is not likely a tool he was utilizing. His letter overall is written earnestly to correct their error; there were no pleasant greetings as Paul typically wrote and he was very direct and stern with them, fervently pleading to turn from the false gospel they applied in their churches. He wrote very deliberatively in attempt to persuade them in their thinking and change their attitudes and behaviors .
    Detailed Analysis
The detailed analysis of this passage can be divided into four main subsections: Galatians 4:22-24a, concerning Paul’s purposeful approach and literal story, Galatians 4:24b-28, concerning the figurative meaning and contrast between two covenants, Galatians 4:29, concerning the persecution and hostility between the two sons, and Galatians 4:30-31, concerning the reader’s response or call to action.
Galatians 4:21-24a
Paul addressed this passage to those in the Galatian church who wanted to operate under the “law”. By the “law”, Paul is referencing the Torah to which the Jewish faith adhered. Paul recognized the Judaizers likely emphasized Abraham’s circumcision covenant to convince the Galatians that circumcision was an essential element of faith that must be continued to please God and secure salvation. Paul spoke against their claims by “offering a counter reading” of this account . This would have served both to capture the attention of the readers and reveal a lesson that opposed their current misunderstanding or misapplication of God’s promise to Abraham. Interestingly, Jesus also utilized the same method of teaching in Luke when He was discussing interpretation of the law with an expert of the law. Jesus told the story of the “Good Samaritan” in order to change the narrative and presuppositions in His hearer’s mind (Luke 10:25-37). Paul likewise reminded the Galatians of Abraham and his first two sons Ishmael and Isaac through Hagar and Sarah, respectively. In Genesis, Hagar was an Egyptian maidservant of Sarah, the wife of Abraham. God established His covenant with Abraham and promised him innumerable heirs. When Sarah was not able to conceive, she enlisted Hagar to serve as a concubine for Abraham to produce an offspring. Abraham slept with Hagar and had a son named Ishmael (Genesis 16). This man-made intervention did not rely on God’s power and provision and showed a lack of faith in the promise God made. Instead, they forced an outcome with their own actions that God did not endorse. Paul used this story to confront the false information and show the error of the Galatians presuppositions.
Paul explained his use of this story was allegorical; he also explained the deeper meaning he wanted them to see beyond the literal text. He explained there were two covenants and a choice to be made. While they were attempting to remain faithful to the literal text, they were in the wrong covenant and missing the more significant point of Christ’s sacrifice altogether. Paul wanted them to see the law for what it was intended to be and understand this was only a type or “a shadow of the good things that are coming–not the realities themselves” (Hebrews 10:1). Paul’s use of allegory masterfully used symbols and types to showcase the present Kingdom of God and the greater story that they ignored . The Galatians at that time would have been taught that the Torah was the “advanced learning” whereas Paul was explaining that the Torah and Old Covenant was “elementary learning”, with the New Covenant being superior.
  Galatians 4:24b- 28
The story of Hagar and Sarah was meant to figuratively represent and contrast the two covenants, old and new, between God and man. “The pairing of contrasting entities (slave girl/freewoman, flesh/promise, present Jerusalem/Jerusalem above; in slavery/free; flesh/Spirit) provided the structure of the passage.”  The story of Hagar and her son Ishmael was one of slavery and rejection, a man-made plan borne of unbelief, corresponding to present Jerusalem. Sarah and her son Isaac represented freedom and promise through the Spirit, corresponding to the Jerusalem above. Ishmael was born in “the ordinary way” (v.23) which was literally a work of the flesh; however, Sarah was barren, and the birth of Isaac was the result of supernatural elements. God made a promise and created a way for the unnatural to occur only through His power. Hagar represented a covenant that “is from Mount Sinai”, the holy mountain of God where God provided the law to Moses. This connected the covenant to “the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children” (v.25). Paul identified the slave-mother Hagar with the Mosaic covenant, “the center of whose propagation is and remains the city of Jerusalem ”. Therefore, Paul’s use of geographical locations also had deeper meaning in correlation with observance of the law. He correlated Judaizer’s observance of the law with the concept of slavery. He immediately contrasted this with the location of “Jerusalem above, which is free and she is our mother” (v.26) .
“Paul does not just arbitrarily assign the law-keepers on the wrong side. They belong on the side of Hagar and Ishmael because they stand for man-made works. The Judaizers have abandoned the place of Abraham (the father of faith) and Isaac (the product of faith). By their choice of Mt. Sinai over Mt. Zion they have cast their lot as children of Hagar, born to be slaves.”
Hagar was an Egyptian slave, likely a gift from the Pharaoh when Abraham and Sarah were in Egypt (Gen. 12). Because Hagar was a slave, her children would also be born into slavery, a perpetual system with no escape or respite. Earlier in the book of Galatians, Paul emphasized that on condition of faith in Christ Jesus, all people can become sons of God, heirs according to the promise. While children, there is no difference between the heir and the slave- both give account to a guardian or master. However, upon maturity, heirs are promised inheritance while slaves remain slaves. Paul outlined the identity of Christians as being “sons of God” as opposed to slaves under the basic spiritual principles of the world.  The idea of “basic principles of the world” can be broad, such as “cause and effect” mentality that actions or inactions always lead to obvious consequences. This concept also may have taken a narrower scope, with Paul using words that could depict either pagan beliefs and rituals or Jewish rituals that the Galatians were combining into Christianity . However, with spiritual maturation, there is freedom from that slavery through sonship. Paul was painting a descriptive picture to urge the Galatians to understand their position with God. “Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise” (Gal 4:28).
Paul also quoted Isaiah 54:1 in this story, connecting the barren woman to Sarah, using a motif of barrenness followed by fertility, an act of God fulfilling His promises to His people. The original text in Isaiah referred to Israel who was in exile but would be restored to the city of Jerusalem. That barrenness was connected to the state of desolation and destruction . Paul again turned that idea on its head to show that God is faithful to fulfill His promises.
            Galatians 4:29
The relationships between Hagar and Sarah, Ishmael and Isaac revealed the contentious nature that grows between those in slavery and those who possess freedom. There was always a level of contention between Sarah and Hagar. Hagar despised Sarah and Sarah mistreated her, causing her to run away (Gen 16:4). As a result, the angel of the Lord met Hagar in the desert, and made promises that her son Ishmael would be great in number and live in hostility toward all his brothers. Paul referenced the persecution that occurred between Isaac and Ishmael and correlated that to the current situation. The Judaizers were bringing a false gospel that enslaved the hearts within the Galatian church.
Galatians 4:30-31
Paul returned to the Scripture, asking them “What does the Scripture say?” He implored them to consider the contrast between the two covenants and get rid of the slave woman and her son. By this he meant the Jewish rituals they had incorporated in their worship. Paul made it clear there would be no inheritance if they chose to remain enslaved. He made use of the pronoun “we”, to attempt to get them back to the truth and highlight that the gospel they accepted and practiced was not one that Paul endorsed. “We are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman” (Gal. 4:31). Paul exhorted the Galatians to return to the pure faith by ridding themselves of “slavery” and accepting the freedom and sonship they had in Christ (Gal. 4:30-5:1).
Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman. “Therefore” brings us to a final summing up of the evidence. Which side- legalists or believers- stands with Ishmael in do-it-yourself works, slavery to law, and persecuting their innocent brothers? And which side- legalists or believers- stands with Isaac in spirital birth through God’s promise, freedom in Christ and suffering unjust persecution from their brothers? Clearly the logical conclusion is that the legalists are rightly classed with Ishmael and are cast out; the believing Gentiles are rightly classed with Ishmael and will inherit the blessings of freedom .
In the verses that immediate follow the selected passage, Paul advised the church to stand in their freedom through Christ and went on to discuss how circumcision was not a means to salvation, which made it clear how specifically they were misled.
  Theology/Interpretation
Paul’s message and intentions were very clear throughout the book of Galatians. The
theological significance he presented was the difference in two worldviews. He highlighted the principles of this world or works-based salvation in opposition to faith alone in Christ Jesus as the foundation of salvation. Paul made use of an allegory, but also clearly defined the deeper meaning he was presenting in the passage. Slavery is bondage to works-based salvation. Freedom and sonship come through faith in Christ Jesus and He is enough. The Galatians needed to decide which worldview they wanted to follow and take steps to get rid of the incorrect presumptions and behaviors from the other. Paul implored them to follow Christ alone, the superior worldview.
Conclusion/Application
There remain choices to be made in our worldview and how we operate in life. Paul called attention to the “basic principles of this world”, which can offer the self-centered idea that we control our destiny through good deeds. The good we do in the world will return and we get what we deserve, whether good or bad. Therefore, any good we do is to benefit ourselves in the long run. When accepting Christ, we recognize that the Kingdom of God operates through grace and mercy. We do good because we love Christ, not because of what it will get for us in return.
A second conflict of worldviews is for those who believe they can earn salvation through what they do or abstain from doing. There are many churches that preach Jesus and something else, much like the Judaizers did with the Galatians. Paul insisted the Galatians drop the “something else” and lean on Jesus alone for their salvation. This problem continues to exist today. In a similar vein, some Christians struggle with the concept of legalism and demanding that other Christians adhere to a list of commandments or rules to prove their salvation.
Applications remain that we need to identify these various forms of false gospels and return to the Word of God. Paul continually asked them “Don’t you know what the Scripture says?”. As we look to Jesus for our salvation, we need to continue to be in the Word and follow the step of the Spirit. Secondly, we need to get rid of the false ideas that are preventing us from fully trusting in Jesus as enough for salvation. When we trust in Jesus, we need to not go back to the mindset we had as spiritual children, and we need to not rely on ourselves or an oppressive system for salvation. This was not the design of God. Lastly, we need to accept the gift we have been given and live in the freedom of Christ.  It is for freedom that we are free.
Bibliography
Arnold, Clinton E., “‘I Am Astonished That You Are So Quickly Turning Away!’ (Gal 1.6): Paul and Anatolian Folk Belief.” New Testament Studies 51 (3). Cambidge, UK: Cambridge University Press. 429–49. doi:10.1017/S0028688505000226.
Boles, Kenneth. College Press NIV Commentary: Galatians and Ephesians. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1993.
Byrne, Brendan. “Jerusalems Above and Below: A Critique of J. L. Martyn’s Interpretation of the Hagar-Sarah Allegory in Gal 4.21-5.1.” New Testament Studies 60, no. 2 (04, 2014): 215-31, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/1553850707?accountid=12085.
De Boer, Martinus. “Paul’s Quotation of Isaiah 54.1 in Galatians 4.27.” New Testament Studies 50 (3). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press: 370–89. doi:10.1017/S0028688504000219.
Hailey, H. H. Hailey’s Bible Handbook New Revised Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1959.
Keener, Craig S. Galatians: A Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019.
Klein, William M, Blomberg, Craig L., and Hubbard, Robert L. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017.
Williams, Sam K. Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Galatians. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1997.

Exegesis of Psalm 1: Two Paths

Introduction

Psalm 1 was written to contrast the life of righteousness with the life of wickedness and the subsequent consequences of each path. This first chapter in the Book of Psalms is significantly different in tone from the remainder of the book, which includes a variety of prayers and songs directed to God. However, Psalm 1 was intended to be a Wisdom psalm directed to the reader in order to interpret the book and provide guidance on how to live a life pleasing to God. Through metaphor, the author outlined how someone might be influenced by wickedness and how to avoid that lifestyle in order to please God. The long-term consequence of each path was provided, with the obvious intention of persuading the reader to choose wisely how they live their lives and make active decisions to avoid evil.
Although this was not considered a Messianic psalm, Jesus fulfilled Psalm 1 to the fullest extent in the way He conducted His life, and His teachings included the same metaphors and language. The Beatitudes were a parallel passage to Psalm 1, with both describing conditions to get to a “blessed” state. Psalm 1 primarily advised which actions and attitudes to avoid, while Jesus expanded on desired actions and more specific blessings that would be ascribed to those in favor of God (Matt. 5:3-12). In His teachings, Jesus also described desiring “trees that bear fruit” and “walking along the narrow road” that leads to salvation (Matt. 7:13-20). Additionally, Jesus made it clear that God required more than lip service from people who worship Him and will turn some away who will not be expecting that outcome (Matt. 7:21-23). In parallel view with the Sermon on the Mount, Psalm 1 is meant to identify a prerequisite understanding for God’s expectations of how His chosen people are to conduct their lives in holy reverence as conditional in order for Him to accept their worship, prayer and fellowship.

Contextual Analysis
Psalms includes 150 independent prayers and songs or poems, categorized into five separate books. The psalms were written primarily of David, as 73 were attributed to him or someone from his household, although other authors contributed to the book as a whole. Psalm 1 is not attributed to any particular person. There is a parallel passage found in Jeremiah 17 that also detailed the blessed condition of a man who trusts in God and described that man as a prosperous tree planted by the water. J. A. Durlesser and J. F. D. Creach conducted word studies of these passages and concluded that they were likely written around the same timeframe based on the imagery that stemmed from the same socio-cultural environment, the later exile period when the Jewish people were in captivity. In this case, it would have been written to bring hope to a people who were afflicted and exiled to a foreign land, encouraging them to be diligent in their faith, meditating on the Torah and dissociating with the wicked people around them .
From a literary perspective, Psalms is a book of poetry; this particular passage is considered Wisdom and parallels with several Proverbs. “Psalm 1 shows the common wisdom theme of the contrasting fates of the wicked and the righteous. The comparison of the righteous to a tree planted by flowing streams also has a parallel in Egyptian Wisdom literature, which suggests that it is a common wisdom motif.” Throughout the verses, the author also uses contrast, metaphor, simile, cause and effect, chiasm, irony and antithetical parallels, common motifs used in poetry. It sharply contrasts two ways of life, with no allowance for middle ground or compromise. The author made use of metaphorical language that life is a “journey” and the simile that a person is like a “tree.” The passage begins with the irony of a blessed one surrounded by evildoers and wickedness. Despite this circumstance, that person is able to hold onto the Word of God and as a result is blessed with peace and life. In this, the author sets the stage for the law to be the “paradigm of faith” to the original audience within the Old Covenant .

Detailed Analysis
The detailed analysis of this passage can be divided into three main sections: Psalm 1:1-3, concerning the actions required of a righteous person and subsequent blessings, Psalm 1:4-5, contrasting the fate of the wicked, and Psalm 1:5-6, which provided a summary of the outcome for each way of life.
Psalm 1:1-3
The first section of this passage outlined actions necessary for a person to be blessed or considered righteous. This was accomplished through a series of scenarios that incrementally describe how wickedness could creep into the life of a person; the person who was able to avoid these situations and infringement of evil over his lives was considered “Blessed.” The Hebrew word for “blessed” אֶשֶׁר (esher) also corresponds to the word used by Jesus in the beatitudes where He expounded upon this concept with more depth, highlighting the difference in the kingdom of God and opposing worldly concepts. The scenarios of wickedness are described both in a way that draws attention to the different realms of commitment and the resulting “degrees of separation from God.” The difference between walking, standing and sitting alluded to the position of the reader when interacting with evil that surrounded them. The momentum of walking allowed for an easier position to walk away from evil, however this Psalm discouraged even walking along or otherwise identifying with the “wisdom” or advice of the godless. Wickedness starts with a seed planted by the counsel of wicked people. The momentum has shifted when a person stops walking and stands in one position. To stand in the way of sinners is to accept or adopt the philosophies that oppose God. It is still possible to walk away, but it becomes harder to disengage with the evil at this point as there is full attention and engagement. However, the ultimate investment is sitting in the seat of scoffers. It takes greater effort to stand again and walk away from the evil. This also implies that the thoughts have infiltrated the person’s heart and they “openly defy all that is sacred, scoff at religion and make a jest of sin.” Jesus expounded on this when He said “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks ” (Luke 6:44-45). Therefore the mocker’s evil heart is evident to the world and it is most difficult to return to a pure heart and repentant attitude. “Mockers are the most egregious evil people, since they not only sin, but they also turn around and mock the innocent.” These are the “three degrees of departure from God” in accepting advice from the godless, participating in its ways, and adopting the attitude of a scoffer, which is the furthest from repentance.
A second action required by a righteous person is devotion to the law or Torah obedience at the time this was written. This differentiates those who delight in meditation on the law and those who are wicked. It also serves as a “gatekeeper, warning the wicked to proceed no further” as the book of worship calls for a special intimate relationship between God and His people. This worship of God’s people calls back to the closer harmonious relationship held in the Garden of Eden between God and man and the relationship that shall be restored at the end of time. When in proper relationship with God, His people will continue to seek Him diligently and try to discover what pleases Him based on His Word. The call to delight in the law is most likely associated with Deuteronomy 27-28, which indicated that “blessing” and adherence to the covenant law were contingent on one another.
Lastly, the picture is painted of someone who follows these actions to be “a tree planted”. A tree was an ancient symbol of divine blessing, and the notion of being planted or firmly rooted next to a nourishing stream of life. The location of this tree next to the streams of water that bring it life is essential to understanding why the tree is flourishing . This notion is similarly referenced in one other place in the Bible- Jeremiah 17:8, a parallel passage to Psalm 1. This picture of a tree of life also references the Garden of Eden and the eventual place of the tree of life in Heaven. This tree has a foundation of deep roots, and because of the nourishing waters, the tree does not wither and it bears fruits in season. Jesus advised to look for the fruits of a person’s life to recognize the person of God, and He similarly compared people to trees. The righteous will be placed properly, firmly grounded and able to produce a crop. This picture is one of a vibrant existence with purpose. This man prospers in all he does because of his firm foundation and placement in life.
Psalm 1:4-5
This passage contrasted the life of the wicked as the opposite in character and actions to the righteous described in the preceding verses. Instead of the fruitful productive tree, the wicked were pictured as chaff- dry, unproductive, without roots or connection to the earth. It blows away with the wind, and will result in the judgment of God. Because of the influences allowed in this person’s life, they did not firmly establish their roots in the Word of God and they have no placement near sustenance to give them life. There is no fruit and they will not withstand the winds of life. This idea was later portrayed by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount comparing those who hear the Word and either put it into practice or do not. They lay their foundation on rock or sand, and that determines their outcome in the winds of life.
Psalm 1:5-6
Lastly, this Psalm briefly summarizes the outcome for the righteous and the wicked. The Lord watches over or knows the way of the righteous. The Hebrew word for “knows” is יָדַע (yada), which means more than just to know or see. This word also indicates concern and care as familiar friends . However, the way of the wicked leads to destruction. The opposing notion to being seen and known by God is to be unknown by God and unseen in a way that indicates isolation and judgment. Given the timeframe this passage was written, these outcomes appear to be closely related to the covenant blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience found in Deuteronomy 28. These blessings and curses were promised to the nation as a whole as a basic principle of that Old Covenant, and would have been a reminder to the Jewish people living in exile to commit themselves fully to obedience of God’s commands. Through the lens of the New Testament, this statement has eternal implications for the wicked who reject God. In a parallel way, Jesus described a symbolic challenge to enter the narrow gate through the narrow road to gain eternal blessing and security. It is much easier to walk with the majority down the broad way, but that way will lead to eternal destruction. In both cases, it is essential for those chosen by God to identify the fruits of those around them and limit the influence of the wicked or ungodly.

Application and Conclusion
When considering the application of Psalm 1, there are two perspectives to consider. One perspective is the broad picture of God’s story and the choices He allowed people to choose or reject Him. This includes individual response to God’s calling and the specific warnings of how sin can incrementally develop and separate man from God. Another perspective to consider is the placement of this chapter in the book and what that would have meant both in the timeframe it was written as well as today.
All throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, the story of God is revealed through creation, the fall and redemption of mankind through His sacrificial love and ultimate judgment of humanity. God allowed every person a choice of whether to serve or reject Him in this life. These two choices were repeated with clarity throughout the Bible. From the beginning in the Torah, Genesis identified separation of the seed of the woman from the serpent, Exodus outlined the rules or God’s expectations for His people and showed His favor in deliverance, and Deuteronomy recorded that the people were to choose life or death, blessing or cursing (Deut 30:19). During the timeframe this psalm was likely written, the original audience would have been exiled in a foreign land with foreign influences and worship of false gods surrounding them. This psalm would have reminded them of their calling as the chosen people of God and caused them to consider how they could honor God with their lives by separating from the evil around them.
Likewise, this psalm offers present day readers the same application. In Jesus’ teaching, He constantly compared and contrasted the life of belief and unbelief and connected the repercussions to those decisions. In the end there will be judgment and the wicked and righteous will be separated for all eternity; the New Testament is filled with repeated warnings on this subject. Psalm 1 was very clear in differentiating the wicked from the righteous in their thoughts, actions, quality of life and ultimate judgment. Psalm 1 expounded upon the concept of falling into a lifestyle of wickedness and specified how individual choices incrementally lead to destruction. However, blessing is promised for those who avoid that path and God’s people are called to the narrow road of righteousness.
The placement of this chapter is also important to recognize when considering application. This was a chapter of warning placed immediately before a book of hymns, songs, poetry and sacred worship to God. Originally, the writer was preparing the people to reenter Jerusalem and not forsake God in a foreign land. It served to warn the people that worship of God was not to be made lightly or from a place of compromise in their heart. They could not serve other gods and presume to worship God in an acceptable manner. In the same way, it still provides a clear warning for everyone living in the foreign land of this world or sin and preparing to enter the New Jerusalem. Jesus taught very clearly against compromise and hypocrisy and warned that relationship with Him was of utmost importance to God and affects whether our worship will be accepted or known by God.
The application for this passage is to consider our position with God and the worldly influences that we allow in our decision making, thoughts and actions. We need to take specific action steps to remove ourselves from the counsel of wicked, the way of sinners and the seat of scoffers. All this must be done to present our worship in a wholly uncompromised and acceptable form to God. Out of these actions stem blessing, but disregard will lead to destruction.

Bibliography

Bullock, C. Hassell. Encountering the Book of Psalms (Encountering Biblical Studies) : A Literary and Theological Introduction. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004.

deClaisse-Walford, Nancy L., Jacobson, Rolf A., and Tanner, Beth LaNeel. The Book of Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary, edited by Rev. Leslie F. Church, Ph. D.. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960.

H. Hailey, Hailey’s Bible Handbook New Revised Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1959).

Kartje, John. Wisdom Epistemology in the Psalter : A Study of Psalms 1, 73, 90, And 107. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, Inc., 2014.
Kidner, Derek. Psalms 1-72. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2014.

Lefebvre, Michael. “‘On His Law He Meditates’: What Is Psalm 1 Introducing?” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 40, no. 4 (June 2016): 439–50. doi:10.1177/0309089216628415.

Longman, Tremper, III. Psalms: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2014.
Strong, James. Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2009.
William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard, Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017.

 

**If you made it all the way to the end, wow! I have been doing a lot of papers like this for school and wanted to post for my own purposes. This is a different writing style than a blog, but good information nonetheless.**

Matthew 8

Our God is a God capable of healing and miracles!  When He came to earth, you see His power over the curse of sickness and death.  To see this side is very encouraging- that He really does care about people.  Something to consider in all these miracles in chapter 8- each and every one has a specific purpose behind it.  God does not move randomly, but He was looking to encourage those toward increased faith in Him.  He was very intentional on the earth, and I believe that is a characteristic we see time after time in the stories we read.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

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  • He healed a man with leprosy, at a time when lepers were unclean and coming into a crowd was a very risky thing for the leper to do.  Jesus responded to His faith by physically touching the man, another “risky” move in that day.  He spoke healing into this man’s life and opened doors that were previously closed.
  • He healed the centurion’s servant who was paralyzed at home.  The centurion was a man of war, an occupying outside force making a request from a Jewish man who was the Prince of Peace.  Jesus blessed him and healed his servant because of His faith.  Jesus spoke healing into this man’s life and opened doors that were previously closed.
  • Jesus healed the sick and demon-possessed.  This was to fulfill a prophecy about Him in Isaiah- He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.  He would go on to fulfill this on a spiritual level with His death.  This is reflected in 1 Peter 2:24- “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”  He spoke healing into the world and opened up the doors of prophecy that show Him to be reliable and the One they were waiting for to save them.
  • Jesus calmed the sea.  His disciples in the boat were accustomed to fishing this sea, and their experience made them aware of the legitimate threat a furious storm can be on the water.  Despite Jesus being IN THE BOAT, their head knowledge overcame their faith.  Jesus calmed the storm as an effort to get them to look past what they knew and put full faith in Him.

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After all these healing experiences and miracles, the word got around and the crowds were following Him.  His response was to leave the crowds (verse 18).  Jesus was not seeking those interested in the excitement of a crowd.  He wanted interested people to count the cost first and understand their commitment. He wanted people who would lay their life foundation on the rock and live in accordance with the faith they profess. He wanted people ALL in. Those who aren’t developing relationship with God are quite possibly just wasting their time, leading others astray and/or making hypocrites of the church. If you are drawn to spirituality, I encourage you to sincerely take on studying the Word and walk in step with the Spirit- who works in you to discern the truth and change you into the person God wants you to be.

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Lastly, a little bit on demon-possession.  I work with people who have a variety of physical and mental disabilities.  We see a lot of self-injurious behaviors and debilitating features at work in people’s lives.  While not every illness or condition is a result of demonic activity, it does remind me on a regular basis that the Spiritual world can have a significant impact on a person here on earth.  In my job, I am possibly dealing with the after-effects of the curse or the direct work of demons.  It makes me want to pray more for the people I see that they would find relief in God and any spiritual chains bound in them would be broken.  I think we all would do better to pray for the things that we can’t always understand.

This passage also shows interaction of a Spiritual nature- between the demons and Jesus.  I always find that to be a fascinating glimpse we would never know about without the Word.  The demons know their time is limited and they know they are not going to win.  They recognize Jesus as the Son of God.  They are able to indwell people and animals.  As a Christian, I don’t need to worry about a demon indwelling because as long as I am filled with the Holy Spirit, there is no room for them to come into my life and take over.  With God on our side, we can appeal to the One who rules the worlds of Heaven and earth.  Keep your focus on Him.

 

Matthew 7b

Continued bullet points on this heavy chapter.

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  • Ask Seek and Knock. This section deals with our requests to God, in other words- our prayers!  What can we expect when we pray?  We are promised insight and direction through the work of the Spirit in us.  Jesus does not promise we will receive whatever we might think we need.  As the Holy Spirit directs our hearts, we will desire those things that only benefit us spiritually and we can have the faith to see those things accomplished as the fulfillment of His promise.  God may not answer our requests because of many factors.  For instance:
    • 1) Lack of faith
    • 2) Temporal (earthly) minded requests
    • 3) We don’t persevere in prayer
    • 4) Our ways don’t match God’s ways
    • 5) We view God incorrectly as a personal genie
    • 6) We fail to see the value of suffering
    • 7) We reject the Lord’s discipline.

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  • Do to others what you would have them to do you.  Many world religions have some form of this idea that Jesus taught.  Actually, this concept was around before Jesus came to the earth and taught the Golden Rule.  Confucius was around roughly 500 years before Christ and taught this idea: “One word which sums up the basis of all good conduct….loving-kindness. Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.”  This is the standard in most world religions.  There is an amazing difference in this concept of loving others and it highlights the difference between Christianity and the world.  The world teaches a passive love.  It is a relatively easy love.  If you feel like strangling your kids, use restraint and don’t do that.  Jesus flipped the script and calls us to an active form of love.  It calls for purpose and intent.  It is a challenging form of love that requires discipline and a model.  Apart from God, this kind of love does not happen on its own.  It is only because of God that we can make that shift from passive to active love.

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  • The Narrow and Wide Gates.  Being “Narrow-minded” is kind of an insult.  At least that is what the world believes.  For Christians, we need reminded that Narrow is our definition in our walk.
    • Narrow Faith.   Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”  Our full acceptance of God’s grace allows us to enter heaven.  It is not works-based- in fact we could never earn it on our own merit.  You look at various denominations in Christendom or other world religions and you will see a lot of interesting ideas that don’t gel with the Word of God that speak to how we will be saved or what the afterlife will be.    
    • Narrow lifestyle.  Matthew 16:24 tells us “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’.”  We can’t live for ourselves in excess and abundance and stay on the right path.  The gate is narrow that we are heading toward; it will take self-discipline to get there.  **I am not saying we get there by our own efforts and works, but we are called to deny ourselves and take up our cross to follow God.  We’ll get to that chapter soon. 
    • Narrow Jesus.  Jesus tells us “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  The world wants to say that all religious paths lead to God.  God Himself refuted this notion.  Other world religions are not compatible in this narrow mindset of truth.  That is a hard truth to consider sometimes, but it is not our world and not our plan.  We can only speak the truth of God in love.

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A Tree and Its Fruit.  WATCH out for false prophets.  These are people who claim to speak for God.  By their fruit you will recognize them.  this is referring to the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  We are called to inspect the fruit in our leader’s lives.  We are called to discern what we are taught and compare it with what is in the Scripture.  The Holy Spirit will NEVER contradict the Word, but rather works to help us understand.  When you’re looking at the life of your minister, consider how they speak when the spotlight is not on.  Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.  A tree will always be true to its fruit, so if your leaders are not living right or if something does not seem to be right in your Spirit with someone…. listen to that.  Watch out.  This is where it is challenging to know about TV/radio personalities or mega-church pastors who are preaching the Word.  If your church is so large, you never interact personally with your pastor, how will you be able to inspect the fruits in their lives.  Most wolves in sheep’s clothing can fake it for an hour a week.  Jesus tells us to watch out so we aren’t led astray by those in a trusted leadership position.

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**Not everyone who says to me “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father.  It is important to note that these people were surprised because they put the time in.  They were religious.  They prophesied and did miracles in the name of Jesus, whether God worked through them or they channeled other sources of power for self-glorification.  Sadly, they never knew God intimately.  They missed the whole point and did not have a relationship with Him.  There was no walk with God, no stepping with the Spirit.  They put on the show, and at the end Jesus will tell them “Away from me, EVILDOERS”.. “I never knew you.”  Do not allow your walk with God to become stale or me-centered.  We can walk ourselves to the finish line, but if He’s not there then we have walked in vain.  Don’t be THAT guy!

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  • The Wise and Foolish Builders.  The difference between these two builders is subtle.  Both hear the words of Jesus, and both build houses.  The wise builder Puts the words of Jesus into practice in their life and consequently has a life built with a strong foundation.  When the winds blow, it is not easily crumbled.  The foolish builder hears the same words, but does NOT put them into practice.  When hard times in life come, they don’t know what to do.  They just fall apart.  James 1:22-25 tells us “ Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.  But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”

 

Matthew 7a

Matthew 7 is the completion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Like my previous blogs, I will bullet point each topic and add notes from sermons and commentaries I’ve accumulated.

  • Judging Others.  How many times have you heard this verse quoted?  Judge not!  It is possibly among the most misunderstood passages in the Bible.  This verse in isolation takes on a different meaning than what was intended here.  You don’t have to read very further on to see Jesus was not telling the people not to judge others.  The next verse clarifies that you will be judged in the same way you judge others.
    • I would argue that condemnation of unbelievers is not the role of the Christian.  We should not judge in place of God.  There will be a day of reckoning, and God is fully able to handle that on His own.  That being said, loving the sinner does not mean agreeing with the sinful lifestyle.  We can love people and disagree philosophically.  In order to do this, we have to first understand that some people fully understand they are living in opposition to God and they have accepted that.  It is not our job to convict them of sin, God can handle that.  There are some who are searching, and it will generally go better if we are open to answering their questions when asked.  The Spirit knows who needs what and is quite good at putting Christians in the lives of searching people.  It is my opinion, we need to remove ourselves from this equation and do a lot more praying for our friends who are living in opposition to God.  I’m not saying to cower or hide our beliefs at all.  The people who are closest to us should know exactly where we stand, but we don’t need to be intentionally confrontational about our faith.  To choose to boycott funerals, carry hateful signs around or stand on the street corners yelling at people is perhaps not the best way to win souls.  Jesus said we would be hated by the world because of Him, so we can’t be too surprised at the opposition we face.  And we shouldn’t be surprised that unbelievers lead lifestyles of sin.  But we are called to do all things in love.  If our actions are not conveying love, we need to rethink our strategy.
    • Within the boundaries of the church or with those who consider themselves Christians, we are called to have discernment and make right judgments.  We are to be on guard against false teachers and those who would otherwise lead us astray.  In Philippians, Paul prayed for the church to grow in discernment.  In Ephesians, he encourages Christians to become mature in their faith, “then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ”.  We are to confess our sins and hold one another accountable.  This involves discernment and judgment- (to form an opinion or conclusion about).
  • Do not give dogs what is sacred.  Some of the teachings I have studied on this particular passage have opened my eyes up in a way I hadn’t had clarity before.  1 Peter 3:15 tells us to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect”.  Let’s do a comparison study in Luke 23:7-10: “When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort. He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer.  The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him.”  Perhaps, it is not always appropriate to answer people are questioning you about your faith.  Sometimes the Spirit will prompt you to speak and sometimes the Spirit will prompt you to be silent.  I believe we will know those situations when we come across them.  I used to feel like every question merited a response that would direct the person in just the right way, and I would reflect and obsess over times that I didn’t have an answer (because the person was insincere).  My focus was entirely off-kilter.  I was so concerned about doing and saying just the right things at the right times.  My concern was genuine, but I was missing the point.  I will never be able to do and say just the right things- on my own- apart from God.  My only encouragement here is to let those go and trust in God.  Don’t feel bad about your encounters that did not go as you had hoped.  Be prepared to give an answer always, but the situation may lead you to remain quiet or ask questions instead.  And that’s okay too. 
  • Practical evangelism:  7 points to take away.  
    • 1)  Know your audience and tailor your approach to them.  Be prepared to give an answer.  (Or two or three).  
    • 2) Be led by the Spirit.  When you look at Philip and the eunich in Acts 8, God aligned and directed everything in perfect timing.  While He may not be operating exactly like that today, He is definitely still at work in people’s hearts to line up seekers with those who can direct or teach them more perfectly the Way to Him.
    • 3) Be motivated by love.  2 Corinthians 5:14 tell us that Christ’s love compels us.  Paul said “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”  If love is not your motivation when confronting sin, don’t confront that person today.  It’s not going to go in a Godly direction.
    • 4) Keep it about Jesus.  It’s not about you.
    • 5) Be empowered- these are not our opinions or ideas.  This is not OUR message we are to share.  We carry God’s truth and Spirit with us to help us in our mission here to share God’s love and saving grace.
    • 6) Don’t argue.  Again, people tend to get in the way and over-complicate things.  Consider John 1:43-51.  Jesus called Philip to follow Him.  Philip approached Nathaniel and when Nathaniel asked questions, Philip’s response was simply “Come and see.”  Our invitations can be just that simple.  We don’t have anything to prove to people; God will show up and do wonderful things.  He wants people to be drawn to Him and desires that none perish.  This is not our argument to make.  They just need to “Come and See” and we can leave it between them and God.
    •    7) PRAY for people.  Pray for your friends by name, pray for opportunities and seekers to cross your path.  Pray for the words to come that will lead someone to God.  Pray before during and after any conversations.

Wow.  There is a lot left to cover in Matthew 7, so I will save that for tomorrow.

Matthew 6

This chapter continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  The end of Matthew 5 leaves us with the concept of striving to be complete or mature, “perfect”, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  We take that idea into a section of disciplines of the faith.  Again, Jesus is contrasting the outward appearance and acts of the “religious” and clarifying that God is always looking at the heart.  This concept is not new, by the way.  When you read through the Old Testament, God speaks to the actions that stem from the evil within man’s heart.  In the times of the flood, God saw that every inclination of the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil all the time and “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth”.  God tells Samuel that man looks at the outer appearance, but God looks at the heart.  David cries out to God to “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”  Proverbs tells us the purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters.  The Proverbs also advise us to “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”  Jeremiah prophecies that the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure—who can understand it? “I, the LORD, search the heart; I test the mind to reward a man according to his way, by what his deeds deserve.”  Jesus is reminding the people that God sees and knows those deep waters.  This is where they need to focus their attention, not on strict “outward appearance” of adherence to rules and regulations.

  • Giving to the Needy.  Of course Christians are to do good things in the world, but doing the right things for the wrong reasons can undermine the purpose of doing good.  We do good because God is good to us and deserves all glory pointed to Him.  If we do good to promote ourselves or look good to others- we will receive the outcome we are seeking and have no heavenly reward for those acts of righteousness.  The term “acts of righteousness” can be seen as a theater, where people put on a mask/costume and perform for the audience on the stage.  Hypocrites are people who wear masks/costumes to conceal their true self.  They get on that stage for the sole purpose of the applause and accolades they receive.  The problem is these acts are meant to be in relation to God, but a hypocrite in this case has removed God from the equation.  There are people you will see walk in and out of church, possibly every Sunday, dressing and appearing to be wholly committed to God.  When you see them on a Tuesday, you might see a completely different person who is not reflecting or considering God in their daily walk.  But they can put the mask on and fool the people when they want to make the impression that they are a Christian.  This is not what God wants.
  • Prayer. Jesus provided guidelines to prayer, not rules.  The idea of going into your closet and closing the door is to remove all distractions and be alone with God.  We can do this anywhere, the location is less important than the motivation behind our actions.  Jesus tells us that God knows what we need before we even ask.  So what is the purpose of prayer?  We pray to arouse and exercise our faith.  We pray to unburden ourselves.  We pray to remind of God’s power and ability to care for us.
  • Model prayer.  Jesus tells us “This then is how you should pray.”  Some religious groups have turned this into a ritual to be stated word for word.  There is nothing wrong with memorization and absolutely nothing wrong with praying this prayer, but God is not looking for a mindless chant in our prayers.  When something removes our mind from the equation, it can easily become a “vain repetition”.  In a couple places, Jesus verifies “Those people (hypocrites) come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”  So instead of using this as an exact prayer we need to pray, we can dissect His intentions behind each phrase- Identifying God the Father, glorifying His name, asking that His will be done above our desires, asking Him to meet our daily needs physically and spiritually, asking forgiveness of our sins and protecting us from our weaknesses and the enemy who takes advantage of those weaknesses.  It is again highlighted that forgiveness of our sins is predicated on our forgiveness of others.  It reminds us that we need to release people of their debts or sins toward us on a daily basis so that we do not break fellowship in our relationship with God.
  • Fasting.  Biblical fasting is always connected to prayer.  Fasting helps us to express, to deepen and to confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything- our very selves- to attain what we seek for the Kingdom of God.  This is not a tool of manipulation, but rather draws us closer to God in humility and allows us to express our dependence on Him.  Jesus tells us “when you fast”, not “if” you decide to fast.  This discipline appears to be expected of Christians.  And that makes a lot of sense considering one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control.  Fasting is a discipline that allows us to practice self-control in a very specific way, and surely we are meeting God on a higher level in this practice.
  • Treasures in Heaven.  This section is divided into Treasures, Vision and Worth.
    • Treasures are the things that tether us.  We need to move away from valuing our physical possessions more than we ought.  In light of the temporary nature of this world, placing too much emphasis on obtaining and protecting things can get in the way of our faith.
    • Vision has to do with our focus.  The eye is the window to the soul, so to speak.  What are we looking at and where is our focus?  Wherever our focus lies will determine the reflection in our soul.  This verse talks about being full of light or darkness, and this is a metaphor to which Kingdom is influencing us- the Kingdom of God or this earthly kingdom.  If our eyes are on Jesus, we will not be filled with darkness and the sad temporary nothings that accompany it.
    • Lastly, is our worth found in the abundance of our things or our jobs?  Is our value on this earth connected to how much we make or how we are able to provide a good life for our families?  If that is the case, we are serving a different master than God.  No one is independent in their servitude.  We can serve God or something else; there is no other option.  If we are not serving God and valuing our worth from His eyes, we are chasing the wind and serving something else.
  • Do Not Worry.  This verse starts with a “Therefore” so it is predicated on the last series of thoughts- where our treasure is stored and who our master is.  God cares about us and He has promised to meet our basic needs.  This does not mean to sit back and put your feet up.  Jesus tells us to look at the birds.  When you watch a bird, you will find it keeping very busy through the day.  Birds may not have a stockpile of supplies, but they are working every day to collect food or make their nests.  God provides in the same way for us.  There are times that He will drop something off right at our door, but often His opportunities and provisions are found when we are out searching for them.  We need to recognize His hand in our lives even when our labors and efforts appear to outshine His movement.  Lastly, we are invited to rest in the arms of our loving Father instead of spending time worrying about what to eat, drink or wear.  Don’t make these large priorities in your life.  God cares about us- we are important to God over things.  Rest in Him, seek first His kingdom and all the pieces will come into place and He will take care of our basic needs.

Matthew 5

I wrote up a blog on Matthew 5 yesterday from my phone and published it.  Well, I thought I published it anyway, but I now do not see it anywhere.  So I dig into my notes again, reformulate my thoughts today on this chapter and learn a lesson about saving my work differently in the future.  For purposes of this blog, I am just compiling notes I have taken from sermons and commentaries.  I am also not re-typing Matthew 5 here; this is meant to accompany the original text.

Matthew 5 is the start of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  While the whole Bible is God-breathed, I think it’s important to take extra note when Jesus- God in the flesh- is providing instruction and details about how the Kingdom of God operates.  And He is about to turn things upside down.  He wanted to dispute the conventional wisdom that wealthy and influential people obviously are receiving more blessings from God because of the tangible things they possess.  Jesus wanted to open up the floodgates of understanding that the Kingdom of God consists of far more than material things.  Our possessions and resources are limited to this earth, but He is offering deeper blessings than we can see, feel or touch.  Jesus did not want the people to believe their current situations were an automatic indicator of God’s feelings toward them.

  1. The Beatitudes.  The idea of being “blessed” in this text is better translated “Oh the blessedness” or even “Happy” as we read through the first few verses.  It doesn’t take very long talking with people or reading their social media posts to see that physical blessings generally get a #Blessed at the end.  And this is not wrong, but as Jesus is about to drop some knowledge, we learn what it really means from God’s perspective to be #Blessed.  Each of these beatitudes is a foundation or stepping stone to understand the Kingdom and the things God seeks from us.  These don’t always make sense to the way we think the world works, and sometimes feel contradictory.  If Jesus had not come to earth to explain the Kingdom, I don’t think we’d ever come up with this operating system on our own.
    • Happy are the destitute of self, those living in inner poverty so to speak.  The word picture of “poor in spirit” is a beggar on their knees, painfully aware of their need, extending empty hands in humility.  This person is at the end of themselves, and that is where the Kingdom of God begins.  Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven, a present possession in this life that extends to eternity for a person of faith.
    • Happy are those who mourn.  In human terms, this does not make any sense.  But remember that God is valuing humility and a spirit filled with Godly sorrow.  2 Corinthians 7:10 says “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.  See what this godly sorrow has produced in you….”  These people understand the gravity of their situation and have considered how they have grieved the heart of God.  They have considered how their time, energy and resources were squandered in sin.  But they do not live in that place of guilt.  If you’ve ever lost a loved one, you understand how the reality of loss changes you and the way you see the world.  Understanding the reality of all that is to be mourned is fundamental to becoming the person God wants us to be.  James 4:9-10 tells us to change our laughter to mourning… Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up.     
    • Happy are the gentle in spirit- not inclined to provoke or be provoked.  They will inherit the earth.  It is an attractive quality for someone who naturally has a gentle spirit.  This is one of the fruits of the Spirit, so even for those who are not prone toward gentleness, God promises to work in them to produce this fruit.
    • Happy are those who hunger and thirst for right standing with God.  Religion in this person’s life is not a matter of tradition or obligation.  This relationship with God is survival and means the difference between thriving and starving if they do not receive “meals” on a regular basis.  The verse promises that these people will be filled.  The Greek word here is saturated, which is an even better word picture.
    • Happy are the merciful.  We just discussed the concept of mercy in my Sunday School class.  Mercy happens when we deserve punishment but are forgiven.  We don’t get what we actually deserve.  In Matthew, there was a man who owed his boss a huge sum that he could not pay back in his lifetime.  He went to his boss and begged for mercy.  The boss forgave him his debt, but then the forgiven man turned around and demanded payment from someone who owed him a much smaller amount.  This bothered the boss so much that he changed his mind and gave the man his bill again.  In that story, the boss is God and the point is that we are expected to forgive others because we have been forgiven.  This is mercy.  We are shown mercy, so we are to be merciful and the mercy shown to us may be factored based on how we treat others.
    • Happy are the pure in heart, whose hearts have filtered out idolatry against God and dishonesty against man.  They don’t play games with people or God.  Read through Psalm 32 for more on this topic.
    • Happy are the peacemakers.  In order to be a peacemaker, you must be peaceable in your disposition and conversation.  If you are prone to stirring up drama and conflict, this will be harder for your nature.  Fortunately this is also a fruit of the Spirit who works in us to produce such fruit, if we allow.  It should be noted that true peace is the position where we are no longer estranged from God.  This idea of peace does not mean a lack of conflict at any cost.  We are not called to hide from the world, but rather to go about it in attempt to endorse and reflect true peace wherever we go.  2 Corinthians 5:18-20 tells us: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”  
    • Happy are those who are persecuted for their faith.  From the beginning, Satan tried to extinguish the light of the world, so we should not be surprised that he is still active in fighting against God’s people.  But God is taking notes and He will offer justice in His time.  Leave it to God.
  2.  Salt and Light.  It should be noted that Jesus did not offer paragraphs or chapter/verses when He spoke.  The idea of being salt (preservative against decomposition) and light (outward reflection of God) to the world directly follows several lines about persecution and suffering.  Don’t hide during times of suffering and persecution.  Continue to be the salt and light.
  3. The Fulfillment of the Law.  Jesus is opening up keys to understanding the rest of the Sermon.  I am going to write a separate blog on this whole topic because it is just too extensive.  The main points are that the first Adam sinned and brought about the curse of sin to the earth and his descendants.  Don’t blame him too much thought because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  The law of Moses came about to reveal more of the character of God’s holiness and highlight the fact that we cannot satisfy the demands of the law on our own.  Our sins demand a pure, unblemished sacrifice to make us right with God.  When Jesus came to the earth as a man, sinless and perfect, he took on the wrath of God and became our substitute in taking our place on the cross.  We deserved that death, but he took our debt and our curse to reconcile us back to God.  He fulfilled the law and brought a new Covenant with His people.  In this sermon, he is providing more insight on what is expected and again reveals how we can never fulfill the whole law on our own.  The law was rigid and made on tablets of stone.  He wants us to accept Him into our lives, to allow the Lawgiver to indwell us and work on our hearts.  Because it’s always been about the heart and inner motivations of a man and not just the outer actions or “theater” so to speak.
    1. Murder- This law extends not just to the physical actions, but to the heart of anger.  Jesus is saying when we hold contempt for others and slander their character or name, we are just as guilty as if we murdered them.
    2. Adultery- The focus of sin here is again on the heart and not the actions.  Adultery is sinful, but so is choosing to look at pornography or engaging in an “emotional affair”.  There are times when something or someone might cross your path, but the sin occurs when you choose to keep looking or connecting on a deeper level to produce thoughts you know are not right.  Disconnect and disengage.  It’s just not worth it.
    3. Divorce-  Divorce is a disfiguration of God’s original design.  The original design brings a man and woman together with God in a covenant that has spiritual bonds that we will never understand on this side of eternity.  Breaking those bonds bring scars and pain that God never intended.  Jesus tells us in a few places that unless there was sexual immorality, the first covenant we entered is the only true covenant accepted by God.  Everyone else is guilty of adultery.  If you are working on making your marriage work, do consider how God feels about marriage and divorce and make the effort to try to reconcile with God at the foundation of your covenant.  If you have already divorced or remarried even, do know that divorce is not the ultimate unforgivable sin.  But Jesus is clear that it is breaking bonds that were not created to be broken.
    4. Oaths- Speak the Truth.  This applies to your written words as well as what you speak.  In the realm of social media and email, be careful to double check and make sure what you pass along is accurate to the best of your ability.  A lot of times we agree with someone’s sentiments and just re-post a statement without fact checking.  This can destroy our credibility or lead someone down a path we did not intend.  If you are passing along chain letters, scam mail, inspirational quotes that don’t align with God’s word, political statements that contain false “facts”, etc…  Just be aware that these kinds of things might make people skeptical about the religious things you post.  Always speak the truth in love.
    5. An Eye for an Eye.  Jesus is setting forth the way to break the vicious cycle of retaliation.  God’s people are to work for justice, but not take personal revenge.  Jesus modeled this example on the cross: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”  This is what is expected of Christians- go the 2nd mile and give to the one who asks you.  Lend to the one who wants to borrow.  Give your shirt AND coat to the one who is willing to sue you for your shirt.
    6. Love for Enemies.  The rabbis of that era put together Lev 19:18- “Love your neighbor” along with Psalm 139 where David said, “Do I not hate those who hate you (God)…”  They considered it an accurate interpretation to pick and choose whom to love.  Unfortunately something that might originate with righteous anger (identifying with the heart of God) can quickly become mixed with bias, selfishness, etc.  Some people get lost in what they feel is righteous anger, but it’s gone awry along the way.  Jesus is telling us to love our enemies and pray for anyone who persecutes you.
    7.  The last line in this whole section of the sermon notes “Be perfect, therefore as I am perfect.”  This word “perfect” can be translated “complete” or “mature”.  None of us can achieve perfection, and Jesus is not calling us to an exercise in futility.  Jesus is imploring us instead to be a true representative of God to the world.  We are to bear fruits of the Spirit and live in love.  We are called to live a life worthy of our calling.  We are to be the salt and the light and allow God to convict our hearts and work in our lives.  We are not to continually engage in sinful lifestyles that grieve the Spirit.  As children of the light, we are to walk in the light and avoid the deeds of darkness.  Disconnect and disengage from the things that take your focus away from Jesus.  Live a life of whole-hearted love for God and intentional love for others.  Dig deeper so you can be complete and mature in your faith.

Matthew 4

Several thoughts on this chapter:

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  1.  Jesus is tempted by Satan shortly after making a serious commitment and starting His earthly ministry.  I believe He was tempted so that He would be uniquely qualified to pay the price of mankind’s sin on the cross.  Without this testing, He would not have fully walked in our steps and passed the test of purity.  Every other person on earth has been tempted in some manner and every other person has failed the test.  It started with the first man Adam, whose actions brought the curse.  Because there is sin, there is a price to pay so the last man (Jesus) came to be the sacrifice for sin.

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  2.  

    When you compare the first temptation given to the first Adam in the Garden with the temptation we see here, you get a pretty good idea at Satan’s mode of operation.  – Satan comes in time of weakness.   – He will draw your attention to the problems in front of you.  – He plants seeds of doubt (Did God really say…?) and plants suggestions for how to take this matter in your own hands.  He will provide relief from the situation apart from God. -Satan also knows and twists Scriptures to suit his purposes.  I believe this is critical information to remember.  We must be able to handle the Word of truth correctly and discern truth from false teaching.  I just listened to a sermon given by a very well-known pastor of one of the largest churches in America.  After listening to it, I felt really positive and encouraged by the message until I dissected what was being taught.  This was a prosperity gospel message so the pastor highlighted some verses and text, but he twisted the message to apply to physical blessings in this life.  He did not give a gospel message and he did not preach the Word about suffering or offer any verses that are truly encouraging to those going through a hard time.  He invited people to a victorious blessed earthly life.  It can be dangerous to misuse the Word of God and lead people toward expectations that are not Biblical.  That is literally what we see from Satan in these accounts.  Satan wants us to step outside the will of God in our lives, whether that is through egregious sin or the subtler kind that separates us from God.

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  3. Jesus did not debate with Satan.  He quoted Scripture but He did not argue or even speak much outside of the Scripture.  James tells us to submit to God.  Resist the devil and he will flee.  The devil only has an open door if we keep it cracked or hear him out.  Personally I don’t believe we should speak directly to Satan.  I see people saying “Not today, Satan” (or some variation of that).  I just believe our words are more effective to reach out to God for mercy and help if we believe we are under attack.  Frankly I have nothing to say to Satan and no interest in what he is selling.  I certainly don’t want to open that door for a conversation.  That’s all I will say on that; it is just my personal thought on the matter.

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  4. Jesus called the first disciples in this chapter.  He selected four fishermen, probably uneducated working class people.  He asked them to “Come Follow Me”.  He is still operating in the same way.  He seeks after people with a simple plea to follow Him.  These men “at once” left everything- they gave up their jobs, family, friends.  We are called to count the cost and be willing to drop everything to follow God.  When we extend our invitations to friends and family to seek God, we simply can ask them to Come and See what God has for them.  Let God work on their hearts and invite Him to show up for them as He is faithful to do when we seek Him.

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  5. Lastly, Jesus came to make right the wrongs from the Fall of Man and the curse.  He began to teach and heal people of their physical and mental infirmities.  As much as I spoke against the prosperity gospel, I do believe God is still working miracles and still healing people.  God cares about us, but He has higher purposes than we can even fathom.  To assume that God’s purpose and glory will best be met when all Christians are wealthy, healthy and comfortable in life has no basis in the Word.  Jesus promised quite the opposite- “in this life you will have trouble, but I give you peace” and hope for eternity of blessing.  At this time in His ministry, it served purposes to heal many people and show His love and glory in this way.