Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Sermon on the Mount - Adultery

Today we are continuing our study on the Sermon on the Mount.  Yesterday, we talked about murder and today we will be addressing another of the Ten Commandments.  Today's subject will what the Seventh Commandment, the one that address adultery.  Here is today's text.
You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.  Matthew 5:27-30 NKJV
Again we will see the comparison between the letter and the spirit of the law.  The letter is clear: "You shall not commit adultery."  The spirit of the law takes it much further: "But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart."  I should have saved my illustration of a brother poking at a brother saying "not touching you" for today!  That is a perfect illustration for this.  Before I was married and especially before I was saved, I had the conversation many times as to what would count as cheating.  Lines are drawn as to how far one can get to cheating without actually doing it, and many like to dance as close to that line as they can.  The most extreme examples are those who claim that unless you actually have sexual relations with someone, you are not cheating.  That is woefully wrong.

Jesus takes this to a whole new level, and it is a level that makes perfect sense.  Being that our obedience is now out of love and not compulsion and being that adultery is between a man and a wife, the example of marriage itself is a great illustration of this point.  I am sure that any husband who reads this blog would say that he loves his wife.  I am sure that if you love your wife you would not play the "letter of the law" game with her saying that being that you were never actually with another woman despite many other things you have done regarding other women, that you have not committed adultery.  If you do, you are either wickedly selfish or the biggest dolt who ever walked on the face of the earth.  If you love your wife, I am sure you would not have physical sexual relations of any kind with another person.  I am sure that line is firm and solid.  But would you kiss another woman?  I am sure just about all of you are extremely firm on that one as well.  Would you share personal thoughts with another woman that you would not share with your wife?  This is now where many will begin to blur the line, but many will make the argument that such and such person is a really close friend and so it is perfectly fine.  What about flirting?  Would you flirt with another woman?  Sure many would say that platonic flirting is harmless, but is it harmless to your wife who is wondering why you do not flirt like that with her or why you are flirting with someone else the way you would with her?  Would you have online or telephonic explicit sexual conversations with another woman, even if that woman is a stranger?  It is only fantasy, right?  Who is it really hurting?  If do take that view, then let me ask if your wife knows about it and is part of those conversations?  You know it would hurt your wife if she knew, so you hide it and claim it to be a victimless crime.  And, finally, would you look at another woman lustfully?  Would you look at pornography and have thoughts of fantasy of things not involving your wife or things you wife would do?  Do you look at women at the beach and "appreciate" their bodies in their bikinis?  Do you look at women at work, thinking how "sexy" they are?  Do you and your friends see an attractive woman walk by and make comments regarding how "hot" she is and make comments like "if only I was single."? 

According to the spirit of the law, anything mentioned above is adultery and it makes perfect sense.  Think about how your wife would feel if you came home and told her how you wished you were single because you saw a really hot woman.  How would she feel if you left her alone at night to watch pornography or if you told her about how you saw pornography and it was really exciting (as though it is not exciting to be with your wife)?  How would she feel if you told her about how attracted you were to the girls in bikinis at the beach?  How would she feel if you told her that you were having cyber sex with some stranger, but not to worry because you would never actually meet?  How would she feel if you were flirting with other women the say same way you flirted with her or in a way that you never flirted with her?  How would your wife feel if another women knew intimate details of your life that you never shared with her?  How would she feel if you kissed another woman?  In any of those cases, she would be hurt and there is no way in the world you can fly the argument that none of it was adultery because you never had sex.  It is idiotic to think such a thing.  The fact is that anytime there is another person who shares interests reserved only for your wife or if you have desires for anyone other than your wife, it is wrong.  More than wrong, it is adultery. 

Jesus then raises the bar even further.  He says, "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell."  That is quite a thing to say!  Let me comfort you in that Jesus is not calling for body mutilation for sin prevention.  Your eye or hand does not cause you to sin.  It is what you choose to touch and look at that causes you to sin.  It is what your eye sees or hand touches that leads you to sin.  So what is Jesus saying?  He is saying that whatever in your life causes you to sin, you need to get rid of it.  Do you choose to watch things on television that lead you into sin?  Get rid of it.  If you can not stop looking at internet pornography.  Cancel your internet account.  If you have friends that you always seem to fall into sin when around them, you need to cut off those relationships.  Anything in your life that is a route to sin that you can not seem to close, you need to get rid of.

Maybe that seems harsh, but it is what Jesus said.  And it also makes perfect sense.  Let us look at what Jesus is saying using today's example of adultery.  Would you keep things in your life that lead you to cheating on your wife?  Would you maintain relationships with women who are constantly trying to break up your marriage so they can have you?  Would you maintain a relationship with a woman who is trying to tempt you into adultery?  Would you keep pornography on your computer or if you could not stop looking at it online, would you continue to go online knowing that you are going to cheat on your wife?  Would you keep pictures of women around that you lust after?  Would you keep anything in your life that causes you to commit adultery?  If you are a man who loves your wife, the answer is "no."  Just as a loving husband would not keep things in his life that cause him to commit adultery, a man who loves Jesus would not keep things in his life that cause him to sin. 

Today we saw the letter and the spirit of the law regarding adultery.  This is a great lesson for not only any marriage, but for our relationship to the Lord.  I say that because this is another great illustration to the Christian's relationship to the law.  Let us look at a tale of two marriages.  The first marriage is a marriage of law.  In many cultures and religions, marriage is based on anything but love.  Men and women (more so women) are arranged by parents to be married to someone else.  There is no courtship, no love, no real desire for each other, just parents telling two people that they will be married to each other.  In those religions, adultery is generally against the law and is oftentimes punishable by death.  So you have a husband forced to wed a wife he does not love and knows that if he commits adultery, he will be stoned to death.  He will, of course, not commit adultery out of fear of the law.  Maybe he won't commit adultery, but he certainly will want to.  He will look at other woman, he will fantasize about other women, he may even flirt with other woman, he probably will find a way to look at pornography, but he will adhere to the letter of the law.  Now let us look at my marriage, or I am sure many of your marriages, that is a marriage based on love.  There was no law making you get married, but you met and fell in love and decided to get married.  You are now together not out of compulsion, but out of love.  A husband in love with his wife would not even look at another woman, let alone commit adultery.  He does not need a law dictated to him to tell him so, he just knows that he loves his wife and would not want to hurt her.  And that is our relationship with God and the law.  Adultery is still just as against the law, but that does not even matter, because we would never even think about heading down that road anyway because he wants no one but his wife and he loves her and does not want to hurt her.  The law is upheld in both cases, but one is out of compulsion in an enforced arrangement and the other it is out of devotion to the one you love.  And such is our relationship to God.  We love God and out of that abundance of love we have for him, sin should be just as unthinkable as adultery in any form would be with our earthly spouses.  

If you are not married, perhaps this is difficult to understand just yet, but I am sure you have imagined it, but think of your wedding proposal.  Think of that moment when either you knelt down on one knee or the man you love knelt before you, remember the excitement and overwhelming love at that moment when you were being asked or asking the one you want to love for the rest of your life, the man or woman of your most amazing dreams, to make those dreams come true and spend the rest of your lives together.  We are the bride of Christ and that love and excitement you felt that day for your partner should be just a mere portion of the love you share for the Lord everyday.  Remember, while we spend our lives with our earthly partner, we will spend eternity with our Lord. Love the Lord as you would a spouse, cherish Him as you would your earthly love, and live in a way that is pleasing to Him. He gave His life to have you as His bride, please give Him your heart. 
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.  Ephesians 5:25-27 NKJV

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Sermon on the Mount - Murder and Anger

Today we will be getting into the specifics moral principles taught by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.  As we have seen so far, what we learn in the Sermon is impossible in our own strength.  Just as the Beatitudes go against our very nature, it is God who makes us the salt and light of the earth, and that the righteousness required to meet God's standards is only possible through faith in Jesus and having His righteousness imputed to us, the lessons we learn are also impossible on our own strength.  We are not to strive to meet all these standards, but have a desire to please our Lord and a reliance upon Him to give us the strength to live a life that is pleasing to the one that we love.  Here is today's text.
You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.' But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.  Matthew 5:21-26 NKJV
Jesus is now going to go through some parts of the law where he gives the letter of the law as taught by man, then compares it to the spirit of the law.  In other words, Jesus is going to give God's intent behind these parts of the law.  This is important because when people focus on the letter, they forms lines in the sand.  We figure as long we are not breaking the actual letter of the law, we are still in compliance with the law.  That is not the heart we should have at all.  A great illustration of this is when parents tell one brother to stop poking at a another brother.  We all know what happens.  That child will poke his fingers as close to his brother as he can come without actually touching him and say something like "Not touching you!"  When the parents question the child, his defense will be that he was not poking him.  That child was following the letter of their parent's law, but certainly not the spirit.  Like those rebellious children, we often try to see how close to breaking the law we can get without actually breaking it.  If our motivation to please God is now out of love, then that is not how we should behave at all.  Our motivation should be one that would please, not one that sees how close we can get to displeasing.  I am sure any loving husband or wife would try to see how close they can get to hurting their husbands or wives without actually doing it.  If you do, then you are a terribly selfish and unloving spouse. 

The first law Jesus talks about is one we all know.  "You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment."  I do not think there is a person alive who does not know that murder is covered in the Ten Commandments.  The letter is not murdering someone.  The spirit is "But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire."  That certainly raises the bar, but it makes perfect sense.  Where exactly is the line we should draw with God.  Should you be able to beat someone within an inch of their life, but tell God that you were obedient in that you did not murder?  Should you be able to have that murderous anger inside you, wishing bad things upon another, or harbor the desire to murder and think that is fine with God because you did not do it?  What if you merely use abusive language and do not even strike a person?  Jesus uses the examples 'Raca' and fool here.  Both are insults and call into question the character or intelligence of another.  Can you tell God that you merely abused someone with insults instead of physical blows and think that is just fine?  You see, in all those cases, we are being that impetuous child looking for a line we can cross and get away with it. God telling us not to murder does not mean anything and everything short of murder is fine.  God telling us not to murder is telling us to not even begin down that road.  If you so much as call someone a demeaning name, you have committed murder in the eyes of God.  You violated the spirit of His law. 

Jesus now takes things a step even further. "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift."  If we are in any kind of dispute with any of our brothers or sisters in the Lord, it is of the utmost importance to settle that argument. This takes it a step further in that not only are we to avoid any anger on our part, but we keep any anger from even welling up whether in our own hearts or in the heart of one who has something against us.  We are called to love one another and Jesus tells us that our love for one another is a proof that we are of Him.  If there is a breach in that love, it is a problem that must be settled.  I know pride gets in the way sometimes.  We almost always we feel we are in the right, and you may very well be in the right.  That does not excuse you, though, of trying to make peace.  A personal schism has no place in the house of God and both parties need to make the healing of that schism of the utmost importance.  Jesus even says to put priority on that over performing a service for the Lord.  This is not a case of idolatry.  You are not putting the settling of that dispute over and above the importance of God in your life.  You are settling that dispute because God is first in your life as our love for one another is exceptionally important to Him. 

Finally, Jesus tells us "Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny."  Jesus now takes his message regarding anger and expands it to your relationship with everyone else.  It is not only inside the church where we should not have adversaries, but in the world at large as well.  I am not saying we will not have enemies, but while many will consider us their enemy because of our faith, we are not to treat them the same.  If someone has a dispute with you outside the church, settle it.  Do not get dragged into arguments  lowering yourself to your former worldly self, but just let it go.  Swallow what personal pride is getting away, and do not let anger to take hold of you.  Jesus is specifically referring to debtor's prison, but it can be applied to our lives as well.  Anger and bitterness imprisons us and keeps us from that freedom and joy we enjoy in Christ. Remember, we are called to be peacemakers not warmongers.

We see here a great contrast between the letter and the spirit of the law. The letter says that we should not murder. The spirit says to not even begin down that road or have those thoughts.  Those under the law as law follow it to the letter.  Those in a loving relationship with our Father desire to obey the spirit.  We do so because obedience is no longer a means to satisfy the requirements of God.  Our obedience is out of love and a desire to please our Father.  The difference between the two is profound.  When you approach God from the standpoint of a child loving his Father, obedience takes on a whole new meaning.  We are no longer grudgingly adhering to a law, but living in a desire to please the One whom we love.  That results in a desire to obey for love's sake not out of the fear of judgment.  The law tells us not to murder, but Jesus tells us to not even be angry without cause (self offense does not count as a cause).  Do not even begin down the path to anger, bitterness, wrath, violence, and eventually murder.  Love your brothers.  Love your enemies.  Love those who hate you.  Remember the example of Jesus who loved us enough to die for us while we were still His enemies.
Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.  Ephesians 4:31-32 NKJV

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Christians and The Law

Let us continue on in our study on the Sermon.  Today we are going to tackle a controversial subject as we are going to talk about the relationship between the Christian and the law.  Here is today's text.
Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.  Matthew 5:17-20 NKJV
Jesus did not come to bring an end to the law, but to fulfill it.  Jesus fulfilled the law by paying the penalty for our sins.  Before His sacrifice, we were all doomed to failure.  There is no way any man except Jesus that could live up the the requirements of the law.  The law requires perfection, even in the sacrifices that paid for the sins of the people.  It was an impossible standard for any man to achieve, that is until Jesus came into the world.  Jesus fulfilled the law by living that perfect sinless life required of us then by becoming that perfect sacrifice required for payment of our sins.  There is nothing more perfect than Jesus and so there can be no greater sacrifice for our sins. 

The sacrifice of Jesus did not end the law, it fulfilled it.  That is an important distinction to make.  If his death on the cross ended the law, sin would be impossible.  Sin is a breaking of the law of God, and if there is no law of God there can be no sin.  In other words, you can not break a law if there is no law.  That would be like getting pulled over for speeding on a road where there is no speed limit.  The law still exists and it still remains God's righteous standard.  From that we can see that what Jesus did was to fulfill God's righteous standard, not change it.  As Christians, we are dead to the law but anyone outside of Christ still remains under its condemnation. 

So how does the Christian relate to the law.  So many seem to take one of two extremes.  Some take the approach that being that we are dead to the law, we should no longer be concerned about the law at all.  The other approach is that Christians should no longer sin at all, and some sort of "holiness" code is established.  Both are errors (though some views can even be considered heretical).  For example, if you take the view that the law no longer applies to Christians in any way then what can we say to those in the church who commit adultery or who are homosexuals?  If the law no longer applied at all to Christians, homosexuality and adultery would be perfectly fine.  On the other hand, if we take the extreme legalistic approach, what can we say about grace?  If our salvation was still dependent on how well we are at following the law, then was the point of Jesus even dying?  Paul addresses both of these errors.
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.  Romans 6:16-18 NKJV

I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.  Galatians 2:21 NKJV
So you see, as Christians, we are still called to righteousness, though we are not judged eternally by meeting those righteous standards.  This may sound confusing, but Jesus goes on to explain.

Jesus next tells us "Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven."  Note that Jesus is speaking of people in the kingdom of Heaven.  This has to apply to believers because only believers will even be in the kingdom of heaven.  Whether the least or the greatest, each case is in terms of the assumption that they are already in the kingdom.  While all in Christ are destined to eternal life in the kingdom of God, not all will have the same status there.  The Bible is clear that there are rewards and consequences to our status depending on how we live our lives.  That is not to say that there is any punishment in eternity for those in Christ (though for those with no fruit the Bible says they will experience some kind of "loss"), but there are even greater rewards for those who seek to live righteously.  Jesus gives us a contrast here.  One who is great in the kingdom is one who does and teaches the commandments of God.  One who is least is one who breaks and who teaches others to break the commandments of God.  Please note that Jesus raises the stakes in that our status is not only determined by our own actions, but on what we lead others to do.  The Bible tells us that there is a stricter judgment for teachers, and this is an expression of that principle.  Please note parents, husbands, pastors, teachers, and leaders, you will be held accountable for not just what you do, but what you teach others to do.  We are called as Christians to not just live righteously, but to teach righteousness.

Finally, Jesus says something very troubling. "For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven."  The scribes and the Pharisees were obsessed with following each and every aspect to the law, even adding provisions that God never intended.  They also imposed that interpretation onto everyone else.  That obsession with righteousness grew into self righteousness where they saw themselves above everyone else.  That said, Jesus tells us that we need to not only meet their draconian standards, but exceed them.  If we do not, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  That makes it seem as though there is no hope for any of us.  In fact, there is no hope for any of us except through Jesus.  You see, when we come to Christ, we are attributed the righteousness of Christ.  Remember, part of coming to God is the realization that we have no righteousness on our own and the subsequent promise that God will fill us as we mourn our inadequacy.  This is why the only hope is Jesus, because it is only Jesus who met those standards.  The Pharisees are not the highest model of righteousness for us to aspire to, it is Jesus.  If no one can meet the standards of the Pharisees, then certainly no one can reach the standards exemplified by our Lord.  So, without any hope of making it on our own, we put our faith in Jesus.  Then something amazing happens, God imputes righteousness upon us.  In other words, the righteousness of Christ is given to us so that His righteousness becomes our righteousness, thereby meeting that impossible standard.

We learn much from this passage.  We learn that the law still exists.  Jesus did not destroy the law, but fulfilled it in meeting the impossible requirements for us so that when we put our faith in Him, His righteousness is imputed upon us.  The law still sets the righteous standards of God and sin still must be paid for.  When we come to God for forgiveness, I think we think of it more like a modern presidential pardon than what it really means.  In a presidential pardon, a paper is signed and punishment is abated for breaking the law.  We have to think of forgiveness differently.  It would be more like the president signing a paper and someone else going to prison for us, paying for the crime in our place.  God does not just wave a magic wand and impart forgiveness upon us, but takes that sin and places it on Jesus at the cross.  Blood is still shed for each sin we commit, but now that sin is paid for by Jesus on the Cross. 

Jesus not only fulfills the law, but turns it on its head as we will see in the coming messages.  The law is a list of "do not"'s. but Jesus turns it into a list of "do"'s.  There is a very good reason for that and it has to do with the heart of obedience.  You see, outside of Christ, our relationship to God is that of Judge.  He is the Lawgiver and the One who determines how well that law was kept.  Obedience is out of a heart of compulsion.  One would follow he law because one has to follow the law and so we are given a list of restrictions.  After we come to Jesus, our relationship to God is that of Father.  Obedience is no longer out of a heart of compulsion but out of a heart of love.  We now follow the righteousness of God because we know that is what pleases Him.  It is no longer about what we are not supposed to do so we do not kindle His anger, but what we can do in order to please Him out of love. 

And that is where the law comes into our lives now.  We do not strive to meet an impossible standard out of fear of retribution, but we desire to express our love to God.  Anyone who makes any claim of being in Christ will say that he or she loves God, but are those merely words?  I will speak in terms of marriage as our relationship with Christ is likened unto marriage.  Can a husband say he loves his wife if he has no consideration for her feelings and makes decision based on his own desires?  Can a husband claim to love his wife if he commits adultery?  I mean a selfish, abusive, adulterous husband can claim to love all he wants, but it is obvious those are only words.  How about a wife?  Can a wife say she loves her husband if she constantly undermines his God-given authority and has no respect for him or his leadership?  Can a wife say she loves her husband if she commits adultery?  Can she say she is in love if she never acts in any way to please him?  Of course she can not.  A loving husband and wife love to please one another.  They also do not do things that will hurt one another.  They learn what pleases and hurts the other and strive to live in a way that pleases the other.  It is not about a wife obeying the commands of her husband.  That is law.  It is about a wife loving her husband and doing things that make him happy out of her love and desire to please him.  That is a healthy marriage and that is a healthy relationship with God.  What Jesus is about to share in the Sermon are those things that are pleasing and displeasing to God.  We are called the bride of Christ, and this is how we get to know our groom.  We should naturally, as Christians, want to please our Lord. We should naturally desire to learn about Him and what pleases and displeases Him.  We should desire to learn what hurts Him and what brings him joy.  It is not about following a law under fear of punishment, but desiring how to live in a way that is pleasing to the One we claim to love. Jesus summed this all up beautifully in a very few words.
If you love Me, keep My commandments.  John 14:15 NKJV
 I will use an example out of my own marriage to illustrate my point.  My wife loves me.  She has a desire to make me happy and does not want to hurt me.  I know what time I want to eat dinner and I know what I like to eat and do not like to eat.  Let us call that my "law."  Now if I were an overbearing husband and we did not share in a loving relationship, I could come home from work and command her to make me a specific meal at a specific time and threaten punishment if I do not get what I desire.  She works to obey out of fear.  That is how life is under the law.  In Christ, it is different.  I come home  from work and hug my wife and tell her that I love her.  She asks me what time I would like dinner and I tell her when I think I will be done with my work.  She loves me and has listened all those times we talked about what I like to do not like to eat and she prepares me a delicious meal with no new input from me and has it ready on time.  You see, the end result was the same.  I had a delicious meal of food I like prepared at a certain time.  The "law" of Ben was upheld.  Only this time it was done out of a motivation of loved.  She learned what pleased and displeased me in terms of food and not wanting to hurt me, she prepared a delicious meal.  She knows I have work to do when I get home and wanting to have dinner ready for when I was done, she asked when I would be ready to eat.  Now, if her love were only words as in those in the church who believe the law is entirely irrelevant to their lives, she would have given me a bowl of cold black olives (I hate olives) and had it waiting to be eaten long before I was done.  I would not punish her for that, but I would also not be pleased or happy at all.  Christians, please remember, the law is not an arbitrary list of "do"'s and "don't"'s, but it is what is pleasing and displeasing to God.  So if you truly love God, you will have that desire to follow His commandments because you are in that intimate loving relationship with your Father.  
'And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment.  Mark 12:30 NKJV

Monday, March 28, 2011

You ARE the Salt, You ARE the Light

Good Monday everyone!  I am glad to be back among society putting my bad cold behind me through the miracle of healing provided by Jesus Christ.  This week we will be back in the Sermon on the Mount and so without any delay, here is today's subject.
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:13-16 NKJV
I have posted on this before, but today we are doing so in light of the Sermon.  Jesus first described the Christian through the Beatitudes, now He is going to tell us just what a Christian is and how Christians should live their lives.  Notice that salvation is already achieved, now it is about living in light of that salvation.  Too many preachers today speak of everything in terms of salvation.  I know my salvation is secure as should every other believer, but there is a separate judgment for believers where are works are evaluated.  This judgment does not decide whether or not we are saved (you would not make it to this judgment if you were not saved), but it does determine your rewards and status in the Kingdom of God.  Being that everything spoken of from now on is in light of being a child of God, we know that living these directions are possible for all of us as we submit ourselves to God.  We know that because we do not live our lives any longer in our own strength or in relying upon our own righteousness, but we live in the power and righteousness of God. 

Note the first part of this text.  "You are the salt of the earth."  Jesus does not tell us that we should act light the salt of the earth.  He does not command us to be the salt of the earth.  He tells us that by virtue of being a Christian, we are the salt of the earth.  That is who you are in  Christ.  You do not to strive to be that salt.  You do not have to do great works to be the salt. You simple are the salt.  What you do what that status is up to you. 

So what is salt?  Salt is used as a flavoring and as a preservative.  It was used more in Jesus' time as a preservative as they did not have the hot fill vacuum sealed cans that we have today.  They also had no refrigeration.  If you wanted to preserve food, you had to salt it.  We still use salting today as I am sure many of us had salt cured meats or anything pickled.  How we are the salt as Christians is in that we preserve the righteousness of God in a world going to Hell.  Society seems to get worse and worse and our entertainment is proof positive of that fact.  What was once considered unthinkable for broadcast radio or television is now considered commonplace and mild.  Children are being taught more and more to disrespect their parents.  Public schools are being training grounds for sin and worldliness.  The world, as it is, is an offense to God and it is us Christians who are called not to conform to the world but to be as salt preserving the morality of God in this world.  The world tells us we need to change with the times, that our morality no longer applies to the world as it is today. God tells us differently, we are to preserve those values and be an example of those values. 

Salt is also used as a flavoring.  More accurately, salt brings out other flavors.  Salt does have a flavor for sure and it does add its own flavor to just about every food we enjoy, but chefs will tell you that salt is best when used as an accent to help bring out other flavors.  Much like our preservative value as Christians, we express our saltiness by living those values taught to us by Jesus Christ.  We are living examples of the goodness of God in a lost and dying world.  If not for us and our witness and lives, the world would be empty of any goodness.  Just a salt brings out the flavor of almost any food, we bring out the "flavor" of lives changed by the blood of Christ.  We bring out the joy and life-changing power of the Lord by living in His strength and under His direction. 

Jesus next gives us a warning "but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men."  How can we, who are called the salt of the earth, lose our flavor and effectiveness?  Simply by not acting like the salt we are.  It should make no sense.  Salt is known scientifically as sodium chloride.  As long as it is sodium chloride, it will still have its same properties.  It can only lose its properties if it is no longer sodium chloride, then it is no longer salt.  What all that means is that as long as salt is salt, salt will act as salt.  It is impossible for salt to not be salty.  Just as unthinkable it is for salt to not the salty, it should be unthinkable for a Christian to not be the salt of the earth.  The Lord declares that we are the salt and nothing should be able to change that.  Ah but there is that one thing we have that salt does not have.  We have free will and as long as we do not deny ourselves, we can make ourselves unsalty by our actions.  If we conform ourselves to the world and do not express the righteousness of God in us, we are not being the salt that we are.  We lose our saltiness, that is we lose our witness.  When we lose our witness, we become worthless to God's work on earth.  Think about it, how can you preach the righteousness of Christ if you live just as bad as any other sinner?  How can you share the joy of the Lord if there is no joy in your life?  How can you teach the life-changing effects of the Holy Spirit in you if there is no difference in how you live your life from either before you came to the Lord or from anyone else in the world.  How can you share with others how real Jesus is if there is no evidence of Him in your life.  If you do not live as the salt you are, you become worthless to God's work in the world.

Next Jesus tells us "You are the light of the world."  Again, Jesus tells us this is what we are by virtue of being a Christian.  We do not choose to be a light, we automatically are when we come to Jesus.  We can not change that we are lights.  It is just who we are.  What does light do?  Light kills darkness.  Actually, light does away with darkness.  If you go into a dark room and turn on a light, the room is light.  You can not add darkness to a room once it is lit up.  Darkness is merely the absence of light and that is what the world is without Jesus.  We are the light of God giving light to a dark world.  We are called to light those dark places with the love of God.  We are to give light to the world of unrighteousness by expressing the righteousness of God in us.  We are to give light to the lies told by the world with the truth of the Gospel.  Just as darkness can not overcome light, unrighteousness and lies can never overcome the light of God's truth of the gospel.

Jesus then follows with another warning. "A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house."  Basically what Jesus is saying is that it is hard to hide a light.  A city on a hill at night can be seen from miles around because of the light it puts out.  Jesus is also saying that it is silly to hide a light.  Why would you have a light if you were just going to cover it.  Jesus is not talking about lampshades that temper the lights we have in our homes, but about completely covering it up.  If you have a light, you generally have it in a prominent place to maximize its output.  If you did not want light, you would not have a lamp.  You would not light a lamp then cover it.  Just like that, as lights of the world, why would we cover that light?  The only way our light will not shine in the darkness of the world is if we cover it.  The world can not cover it (as in the city on the hill) and we should not cover it (as in putting a basket over it).  No, we are lights in order to light the world.  God would not have made us lights if we were not to light the world. 

Jesus continues "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven."  We must give glory to God with our lives so that the world may glorify God through our works.  We must live as though we are lights that is sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with the world.  We must not be ashamed of that light and try and cover it but let it shine.  The world may cover its eyes. The world may try and shrink away into the darkness it loves, but if we all continue to shine our lights before men, those dark corners to hide in will become smaller and smaller.  The light we shine allows others to see the truth of God and the Gospel.  The light we shine exposes the unrighteousness of others.  The light we shine allows the world to see God working in our lives.  We must live that light before men or men will continue to take comfort in darkness. 

We are the light and salt of the earth.  That is not a command or a calling, but a definition of who we are in Christ.  If you are a Christian, you are the light and the salt of the earth.  It is not something you need to pray and strive to be, but what you are already in Christ.  Our job is to just be who we are.  That is the amazing simplicity of this message.  It is just being who we are in Christ.  When we are out in the world, we are the salt.  It is when we purposely conform to the world that we lose our saltiness.  When we are out in the world, we are the light that shines in the darkness.  It is only us that strives to cover that light.  Brothers and sisters, just be who Christ made you to be.  It really is that simple.  
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.  Romans 12:2 NKJV