Thursday, December 14, 2017

Sexual Attitudes

When we understand that being godly in not simply a matter of keeping the law, but about having a new spirit or attitude, we begin to understand that those laws only indicate what the attitudes should be, and are not themselves the ultimate measure of righteousness.   As we saw in the previous study, it is not good enough just to not kill someone, we need to have a different attitude, so that we don’t want to kill them.  The same is true in many other areas of life, as we shall see.

In Matthew 5:27-30, Jesus said, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.  And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.  And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” 

How many people look at an attractive person and fantasize about having a relationship with them, feeling very righteous because they would never act on their fantasy in real life.  Jesus said mentally they have committed adultery even though they haven’t done so physically.  It is only a small step from fantasy to the physical sin, and the world constantly places suggestive images in front of us, whether in advertising, in popular fashions, in jokes, in stories and in pictures.  Many people indulge in pornography, or other sexual sin in the belief they have to have sex, even quoting to Genesis 2:18, “And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone…” to justify their sin.   In reality, they are no different than the drug addict or alcoholic who tells himself he has to have another hit of their chosen chemical to be happy.   Jesus said if there is a part of your body you can’t control, it would be better to have them surgically removed than to face God’s judgment because you didn’t control it.   

Today, many people get a divorce in hopes they can find someone else who will be more satisfactory and easier to get along with.    In Matthew 5:31-32, Jesus warned, “It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” 

While the Old Testament Law allowed a person to legally divorce their mate and Marry someone else, Jesus said that in reality they were still committing adultery, and that whoever married a divorced person was also committing adultery.   In Matthew 19:7-9 the Pharisees questioned why there was a difference between what Jesus taught and what the Law said.  “They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?

 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.  And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” 

God had never intended people to divorce and remarry.  Unfortunately people are often stubborn and selfish, and in order to enable them to get along in this life God allowed them to divorce.  Nevertheless they were still committing adultery if they remarried and their mate was not guilty of physical sexual sin.    Under the Old Testament law, anyone committing adultery was to be executed, so while the law might permit a person to remarry, they were still not meeting God’s standard.  As Jesus said, in Matthew 5:20, “…except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”    Just keeping the law isn’t good enough.  

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Resolving Conflicts

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes a very strong point that getting into heaven in not simply a matter of fulfilling a set of rules, but of having a new holy nature.  One of the demonstrations of that new nature is a new attitude.   In our day road rage incidents and school or workplace shootings often leave people dead.  Constant efforts are made to eliminate the guns so that it will be more difficult to kill.  History shows such an approach is ineffective, because people can always find a way of killing.  

In Matthew 5:21-22, Jesus addressed this very issue.  “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” 

In Genesis 9:5-6 God commanded, “And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man.  Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.”   The same standard was demanded by the Old Testament law in Leviticus 24:17.  “And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death.”  It is important to understand that the words translated kill that are used in this passage mean to murder or knowingly act in way that puts a person’s life in danger.    

If a person accidentally killed someone, he could go into one of the cities of refuge for protection to escape the death penalty.  At the city of refuge he would be tried and if he could show the death was not intentional, he would be allowed to remain, but if he ever left the city he could be executed on the spot.  If it was shown that it was in fact murder, the city of refuge was to execute the guilty party.  The death penalty was the required penalty for murder while manslaughter called for an automatic life sentence.  Thus, even an accidental death could place one’s life in jeopardy, as Jesus said. 

Jesus said that the judgment of God runs much deeper than just physically killing a person.  He said that to be angry without a valid reason deserved the same sentence because as John 3:15 tells us, “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer…”  It is the very attitude that leads to the road rage and mass shootings we see today.  Denigrating terms such as raca, “you worthless trash” may result in lawsuits, but referring to a person as being a fool who is incapable of learning demonstrates an attitude that has no respect for the person.  Such comments reinforce the attitude of disrespect and inflame hatred toward others.   

This is so important that In Matthew 5:23-26, Jesus said, “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.  Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.  Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.”  

Conflicts with others clearly indicate an unspiritual attitude as I Corinthians 3:3 tells us.  “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?”  No matter how much a person may claim to serve God, I John 4:20 warns, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”    We need to address those conflicts so that they do not hinder our relationship with God.  As Jesus warned, if we don’t resolve them they will eventually cost us everything. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Blessed By Persecution

It is interesting that the passage from Matthew 5:3 -12is called the beatitudes, referring to their blessed promises, especially since they refer to the person’s attitude.  Verse 11 spoke of the blessings of one who is persecuted for doing right.  In Matthew 5:11-12, Jesus expands on that point, making it very personal.   “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.  Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”  Christians are blessed when people persecute them and slander them for following Christ.   The key is that they be persecuted for doing what is right, not for doing what is wrong.     I Peter 4:14-15 tells us, “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.  But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters.” 

When we are persecuted for doing right, it indicates that we are having an impact on those around us, influencing people’s actions, much like salt kills bacteria in food.  Matthew 5:13, tells us, “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” A Christian that no longer presents a contrast to the world’s attitudes in like salt that has lost its flavor.  It no longer serves any useful purpose. 

Jesus then uses a another analogy in Matthew 5:14-16.  “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.   Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Mt 5:16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”  Like a light, a righteous example enables people to see what is wrong in their own lives.  If the light is exposed it can be seen from a distance, but if it is covered up to avoid persecution, it serves no useful purpose. 

Unfortunately many think that Christianity results in new standard of what is right and wrong.  Matthew 5:17-20 makes it clear this is not true.  “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.  For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.  Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” 

The standard of right and wrong listed in the Old Testament will remain in effect as long as this present world remains exactly as written.  Christ did not destroy the law, but he fulfilled it, and in him we can fulfill it as well.  Because we meet the requirements of the law through Christ, Romans 10 :4 tells us, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”  For those who have not believed in him and met the requirements through him, the law is still in effect.  Those who ignore even the most insignificant of God’s laws will and tach others to ignore them will have little or no rewards or respect in eternity, but those who practice them will be richly rewarded.  Just keeping the law like the scribes and Pharisees will not be enough to get anyone into heaven.  It will require a whole new attitude that comes from the Holy Spirit coming into our lives as a result of believing in Christ.  In the next few verses, Jesus will compare the law with the attitude that will be required.  

Friday, December 8, 2017

Attitudes God Blesses

One of the biggest mistakes people make is believing that the Christian life is about following as set of religious rules.  When we examine Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, we see that he is teaching us to have the proper attitude.   Improper behavior indicates an ungodly attitude.   He starts by describing proper attitudes that God rewards in Matthew 5:2-10.   Later he describes some of the behaviors that result from our attitudes.   Let’s start by examining those attitudes. 

“And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:2-3)   Christ is not talking about being physically or financially poor, but about having an attitude of total dependence upon God.  These are the ones who will be in heaven,  Just going without does not result in special blessings, as many seem to believe. 

“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)  We live in a world that is focused on having a good time.  God promises comfort to those who take a realistic view of the world and its wickedness.  They are not just people who feel sad and depressed because things happened they didn’t like.   God will comfort those who are concerned about things that are evil.
“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5) Meekness is the attitude of not being focused on one’s own pride, or desires.  It goes beyond just being humble.   God will give everything to those who are willing to yield to other people rather than demanding their own way.

“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” “Matthew 5:6)  Those who actively seek to do what is right, to obey God will have experience the closeness and satisfaction of a personal relationship with God. 

“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)  Those who are willing to forgive will receive God’s forgiveness. 

“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)   Those who have a pure heart attitude will have the privilege of getting to know God personally.  Those who are just going through the motions, following the rules will never get to really know him. 

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)  Those who actively seek to avoid and prevent conflicts Will be recognized as being from God and will be blessed for their efforts, earning respect from those around them. 

“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10)  Those who allow themselves to be slandered and mocked for obeying God are blessed because they are God’s children and will live with him.

These attitudes please God, and he rewards those who have them.  Although different words are used, they are essentially the attitudes Galatians 5:22-23 tells us the Holy Spirit produces in Christians.   “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance…”   Jesus went into greater detail about these attitudes in Matthew 5:11-7:29.  

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Don’t Get Caught Up In Fads And Debates

The God who created the world already knew that mankind would sin and rebel against him and devised a plan whereby we could be saved, at great cost to himself because he loved us.  Our salvation is completely about his love for us, not about our goodness, or even our love for him.  It is part of his long term plan, not a spur of the moment decision on his part.   He is not going to drop us because we failed to live up to his expectations.  We don’t have to earn his love.  Instead, we demonstrate our appreciation for his love by our obedience.   The result will be a closer relationship with God. 

Titus 3:8 advises us to make the effort to obey God.  “This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.”  The things that he commands will make life here on earth much more satisfactory, as well as earning rewards for eternity. 

We need to be careful to avoid the popular religious fads and arguments, however.     Titus 3:9-11 advises, “But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.  A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.”   Debates over how many angels could dance on the head of a pin, or where Cain got his wife are foolish questions serving only distract from more important matters.  Many times the answers such as where Cain got his wife can be inferred from the scriptures if one bothers to look, while others, such as how many angels can dance on the head of a pin are completely frivolous and without merit. 

Our ancestry has only limited impact on what a person does in life.  A child raised in a godly home can rebel and go into drugs or crime, while a person who was raised by horrible parents can choose to do what is right.  Genetics may control one’s physical characteristics, but he chooses his own attitude, although he is influenced by those around him.  Our ancestry has no relevance to whether we serve God or not. 

Religious debates and disagreements over what the scriptures mean almost invariably result from accepting someone else’s interpretation of scripture rather than from study of the scriptures themselves.  Wasting our time arguing about them prevents us from studying the scriptures for ourselves, and doesn’t really change the other person’s beliefs.   If person insists on clinging to a false belief after being shown what the scriptures say, we should simply walk away, realizing that their unwillingness to accept what the scriptures say indicates they are following someone besides God, putting them in God’s place.   

God does not change his opinion regardless who believes it or who doesn’t.  Wasting our time trying to change their minds only distracts others from the truth.  II Timothy 2:13-warns, “If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.  Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.”  By arguing with them we give them the appearance of legitimacy.  

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Building A Proper Relationship With God

It is critical that we set the proper example of obedience before other Christians so that they can experience the blessings of God in their lives.   If we want to build a good relationship with another person, we must show an interest in them personally, treating them with respect, avoiding things they may find offensive and showing interest in things they like.  If we are so wrapped up in what we are doing we have no time for them, or show a lack of respect, they soon feel unwelcome and stop trying to connect.  The same thing happens in our relationship with God.   

In John 14:21-23, Jesus said, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.  

 Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?

Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”  If we show no interest in his things, we will never experience an intimate relationship with God because we are so caught up in ourselves.

If we want an intimate relationship with him, we are going to have to lay aside the focus on our own wants and accept respond to him.  Titus 2:11-14 points out how badly he wants to connect with us.  “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”  As much as he desires to show his love for us, he cannot unless we are willing to respond to him. 

As teachers and pastors, we need to encourage people to respond to god so that they can develop  that intimate relationship with God.  Titus 2:15-3:4 points out the attitudes people need to have if they are to develop that intimate relationship.  “These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.   Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, showing all meekness unto all men.  For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.   We were no different than other people, and no more deserving of God’s love.  Instead of judging them, we need to concentrate on our own behavior, as Romans 14:13 commands.  “Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.”

Titus 3:4-7 reminds us our salvation was not the result of any special goodness on our part.  “But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”   We deserved judgment just as much as the worst criminals, because we really were no different, but because God was willing to show mercy, forgiving those who would acknowledge their sin and accept Christ’s sacrifice for it, we were saved.  Our salvation was accomplished by his washing our sin just as regenerating a battery requires eliminating residue that prevents it from accepting an electrical charge.     Once that regeneration is accomplished, a full charge can be delivered and the battery is once again useable, but the battery is incapable of regenerating itself. 

Until we have been cleaned out and a fresh surface exposed, We cannot accept the Holy Spirit’s working in us, and as long as sin remains it limits our ability to accept his working, just as incomplete generation prevents the battery from receiving a full charge.  By setting the proper example and encouraging proper attitudes, we can help people develop a proper relationship with God.      

Monday, December 4, 2017

Teaching By Example

People tend to assume others are just like themselves morally.  A thief assumes everyone else steals, and a liar assumes everyone else is lying.  Today we see this being played out in American politics, with accusations being flung about in the media and by one party about the president.  As time goes on, investigations keep turning up more evidence against the accusers than against the accused, both about sexual misconduct, and about Russian collusion.  We see the same thing in the religious world.  

Titus 1:15-16 states, “Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.  They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.”    People begin to imagine an evil intent on the part of others, and accusing others of wrong doing who had no such intention, simply because they know what they might do if they had the chance.  They automatically assume the worst in a situation and try to make rules to prevent any possible opportunity for sin.   Closer examination invariably reveals that they do the same or worse things themselves, hoping the accusations and rules will divert attention away from their own sin. 

Titus 2:1-2 advises Titus to focus on the things that are right, that go along with sound doctrine rather than focusing on what is wrong.  “But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience.”  For example, He should encourage the older men to be serious minded and thoughtful, exercising self-control and developing solid faith in God, rather than just talking about it.  They need to learn to really love people, not just giving money or hugs, but really caring about the person.  They need to learn to be patient with those who are younger and less mature. 

He needs to encourage the older women to set a proper example for the younger women, as Titus 2:3-5 states.  “The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.”  The younger women need to see examples of women who take care of their own business rather than meddling in other people’s and have developed a loving and happy relationship with their own husbands and children.  The greatest impact will come from the best examples. 

Too often we expect people to do what we tell them without setting a proper example.  Such hypocrisy is really frustrating for young people.   Titus 2:6-8 directs Titus to set the example for the young men.  “Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded.  In all things showing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine showing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.”  He needs to live a life that is above reproach as an example for the younger men to follow.  He also needs to set an example in his doctrinal stance, not going along with false teachings.  He needs to demonstrate a thoughtful, sincere attitude, being careful what he says so that there is no doubt as to the truth of what he says.  When young people have proper examples, it is much easier for them to respond properly.     

He needs to encourage employees to have a proper attitude toward their jobs as well.  Titus 2:9-commands, “Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again; Not purloining, but showing all good fidelity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.”  Employees need to learn to be respectful to their employers, doing their job to the best of their ability, and not stealing from him, either by taking things without permission or doing one’s own thing on company time.  He needs to be faithful to his contract in order to maintain a proper Christian testimony on the job.