Thursday, August 27, 2020

Dogs and Pigs

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (Matthew 7:6). These words form the seventh but shortest section of the sermon. This admonition follows the previous “judge not” admonition. As noted, the Lord warned against hypocritical efforts to correct others while ignoring one’s own issues. Jesus did not forbid loving efforts to correct a brother’s failings. To cite Paul in Galatians 6:1, “If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” This is immediately followed by a warning: “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”
The verse before us addresses those individuals in the church who will not be corrected because they are like dogs and pigs, unholy and unclean. Unregenerate professors boast of divine life but do not possess it. Their unsanctified “self” tends to be critical of others but are overly defensive. Like dogs, the unspiritual “bite and devour one another” (Galatians 5:15). Thus, the body of Christ suffers because true saints, out of fear of criticism and retribution, neglect their spiritual gifts, withdraw, and remain silent. Cultural confusion of “political correctness” further exacerbates that fear.” As a result, the loving watch-care much needed in the church is sorely neglected. Oh, that God would grant His people a reviving of the biblical atmosphere spoken of in Ephesians 4:12 and 13.
Jesus’ audience had no problem understanding His words but imagine these descriptives used in modern pulpits. How dare one call another a dog. Yet, Jesus replied to a Gentile woman, “It is not right to take the children’s [Jews] bread and throw it to the dogs [Gentiles](Matthew 15:26). He was testing her faith, but it is texts like this that require modern Christians to know the Old Testament to properly understand. Sadly, the Jews also failing on this point, becoming what they condemned because they did not understand how they, too, profaned the holy.
Mosaic instruction to the Levites was that “they shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the common and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean” (Ezekiel 44:23). Yet, under the old economy, the Lord complained, “Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common” (Ezekiel 22:26). However, the Lord promised that in the new age, “Once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him” (Malachi 3:18).
Dogs and pigs symbolize people who claim to be God’s people but are unholy and unclean, even idolatrous. Thus, we read in Revelation concerning the New Jerusalem, “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (22:15). Sorely lacking in churches today is saints who “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” and are “filled with all the fulness of God” (Ephesians 3:18, 19).

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Judge Not

This section of the Sermon on the Mount deals with unlawful judgment (Matthew 7:1–5).  Here is a text that is frequently quoted by those who understand it least. Sadly, many have erred in following the mere sound of words and “Judge not” is often taken unconditionally. It becomes the response of those wholly unwilling to receive the loving rebuke of those who long for another’s greater good. Thus, one must be careful in interpreting and applying the words of this section. To understand this admonition properly, the first duty of kingdom citizens must be to learn and practice righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees (5:20). As previously noted, three terms describe the righteous kingdom condition in the gospel age: unity, purity, and verity. Jesus would have kingdom citizens to weigh all things according to light and truth with understanding and spiritual discernment.
The word translated “judge” means to consider and evaluate the evidence, and form a verdict based on the facts presented. It has a variety of applications in Scripture; for example, Paul addressed the Corinthian believers, warning that participating in pagan practices may leave them guilty of idolatry. Thus, he challenged them, “I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say” (I Cor. 10:15)—form your opinion after hearing me out. Paul invited them to judge his opinion. In Acts 16:15, Lydia invited the apostle and his entourage to stay in her home on the condition that they “judge” or consider her “to be faithful to the Lord.” Lydia invited the apostle to judge her profession of faith by evaluating her public response to Christ. However, in Romans 14:5, to “judge” someone means to despise them in a matter of personal liberty. In this case, the evaluation is forbidden.
With the above in mind, observe what Christ actually condemns. Jesus warned against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees’ righteousness, which was legend. They were quick to condemn the actions of others while ignoring their own greater sins. For example, in Luke 18:9, Jesus “told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt.” The sin of a censorious spirit is that of one who invades the office of the Judge of all the earth. Blind to his own guilt, this hypocrite despised the poor publican. He said in prayer to God, “I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11). There is a great tendency to self-deception regarding one’s own standing before God. The prideful sense of self-evaluation that concludes one as self-righteous is but a mask for a critical spirit. It is dangerous both to one’s own spiritual life and to that of the whole body, being extremely contagious.
Kingdom righteousness demands unsparing self-examination in light of the truth of Scripture before the throne of grace while utterly rejecting temptation to sit on God’s judgment seat evaluating the failings of others. For this admonition, one must seek the Lord in earnest prayer, asking for the Spirit to search his heart that he may rigorously evaluate the context of his interaction. Let us pray like David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24).

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Begotten of God

The goal of God is to establish a righteous kingdom on earth. Realization of this goal requires a righteous people to populate the kingdom. To accomplish this goal, He is creating a new race through His second Adam, Jesus Christ. The first Adam was created in the image of God; the last Adam was begotten in the image of God. The first Adam was tested and found faulty, succumbing to the temptation of Satan. Thus, the offspring of the first Adam are condemned to eternal punishment. The last Adam was tested and found worthy to be eternally installed upon God’s holy hill, Zion, as King.
The self-evident problem presented is, where will the King find the citizens over whom He will reign?The answer is found in the term begotten (Hebrew, yalad, to beget or give birth; Psalm 2:7). First, Psalm 2:7 describes an eternal decree, and the word “today” can refer to a particular day or to a period of time. There is a twofold fulfillment of the decree. First, in its eternal sense, the decree defines the Son in His relationship to the Father in the Trinity. Second, in its temporal sense, the decree describes the Son in His entrance to the human race. The angel appeared to Joseph in a dream: “Do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20, 21).
Psalm 2 is primarily a declaration of judgment against rebellious nations assembled to rage against the Lord and His Anointed (mashiyach, Christ, Messiah). The Lord laughs because He has already determined how He will deal with this rebellion. He has set His King in Zion who will “break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (v. 9). Thus, the Lord warns them, “Kiss the Son lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled” (v. 12). All judgment has been committed to the Son.
Nevertheless, there is also a whisper of hope. “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage” (v. 8). Christ, through His death, owns the world. He bought it with His blood. This is the message of Revelation 5 and 6 with the scroll (the title deed of the earth) and the Lamb worthy to open it. He is the seed of the woman promised to end Satan’s usurping the kingdom on earth (Genesis 3:15). Jesus suffered Adam’s penalty to free some of Adam’s seed in order for them to experience a divine begetting that they might become the children of God. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:1–3).  
Listen carefully to Genesis 3:16; “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth [yalad, beget] children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” Here is a prophetic word concerning the church. These words were spoken of the wife of the first Adam. They are also spoken of the bride of the second Adam. Jim Elliff eloquently spoke of this: Out of the sleep of the first Adam came the woman; out of the death of the last Adam came the church.”

Thursday, August 6, 2020

The Critic’s Self-Entrapment

Kingdom citizens (church members) have a responsibility to share in the gracious work of Christ in building and strengthening the kingdom on earth. To accomplish this work, Christ has gifted each of His people, engrafting them into the body and enabling them with His Holy Spirit. Each local assembly adds to the growth of the greater body (Eph. 4:16). The duties of each member are designed to maintain the unity of the body through personal spiritual maturity and corporate holiness. Three terms describe the kingdom condition in the gospel age: unity, purity, and verity.
Matthew 7:1 is often used to reprimand those who seek to correct others. This reaction is often expressed by one who feels the sting of the rebuke because they are guilty. Does Christ forbid what His followers are clearly encouraged to do? “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3). “Better is open rebuke than hidden love” (Prov. 27:5).
The Lord plainly commanded old covenant saints to live in unity, purity, and integrity: “You shall not hate [to be indifferent] your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:17, 18). This duty is not removed but amplified in the new covenant. As children of light, we are “to discern what is pleasing to the Lord [and] take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Eph. 5:10, 11). This calls for humility, discernment, spiritual confidence, and courage in caring for Christ and kingdom. “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself” (Gal. 6:1, 2).
The term, judge, in Matthew 7:1 means to function as a judge—to pronounce an opinion concerning right and wrong from the bench, so to speak. It is to subject the one judged to judicial censure by one who has no right to do so. Remember, the basic argument of the Sermon on the Mount is not relaxing the commandments but fulfilling them in new-covenant power and authority. New covenant people are to practice a righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 5:19, 20).
Nothing destroys unity in the body faster than a critical spirit. It is dangerous both to one’s spiritual life and to that of the whole body, being extremely contagious. A critical spirit sees wrong in others and reacts with an unchristian and prideful superiority. Such a spirit fails to love the offender or to seek his restoration to healthy spiritual life. Such a spirit also subjects the critic to divine discipline because he is equally guilty of sin. The critic falsely assumes a spiritual standing because he thinks he is not guilty of the offense detected in his brother. Sadly, the truth is that while the critic is aware of the splinter in another’s eye, he is oblivious to the log in his own (7:4, 5).

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Spiritual Discernment

In response to God’s revealing the dream of Nebuchadnezzar and its interpretation, Daniel offered praise to God (Daniel 2:20–23). Only the eternal God has all wisdom and might (power) because He is sovereign in all the affairs of men. Daniel understood that the end for which his sovereign Lord orchestrated all things was His glorious eternal kingdom.
Whatever happens until the kingdom is fully established must be part of God’s preparing for it. Thus, in the passage a powerful truth is revealed: God “gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.” So, who is wise? They are those who fear Him: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight [the power of spiritual discernment]” (Proverbs 9:10). The Hebrew word translated “insight” is the counterpart of the Aramaic term translated “understanding” in Daniel 2:21. This term describes spiritual discernment or divine perspective that God gives to those fear Him. Through insight He reveals “deep and hidden things.” Those who fear God live wholly devoted to Him and His will; to them He gives spiritual discernment.
In 1 Corinthians 2 Paul addresses this gift, urging the troubled church to get right in order to be used of the Spirit to represent properly their risen Lord. He wrote, “Among the mature … we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory” (vv. 6, 7). He then cites Isaiah 64:4, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (v. 9). This is not some mystical or charismatic gift.  It is what “God has revealed to us through the Spirit” in order that “we might understand the things freely given us by God” (vv. 10, 12).
This insight and discernment enables believers to know what God is doing in the world. It is not some special revelation that overrides Scripture. It is wisdom and insight “prepared for those who love him” to discern events through Scripture by the Holy Spirit. Those who love Christ put Him above all else, fear Him, long to know Him, and obey Him. This wisdom and insight come as believers wrestle with God in earnest prayer (“strive together”—Romans 15:30).
Paul wrote these things to a very troubled church, deeply concerned to correct their shortcomings so that their “faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (v. 5). “The natural person [psuchikos, soulish person] does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” A soul (psuchikos) governed by breath only (life-principle) not being born again, lives only by his sensuous nature, subjected to fleshly appetite and passion. On the other hand, “The spiritual person judges [discerns through divine wisdom] all things but is himself to be judged [discerned] by no one. ‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:14–16). As Daniel of old, we have access to divine wisdom and insight by His Spirit so that we might live out the will of God and represent Christ well in these difficult days.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

The Kingdom and Righteousness

Jesus warned His followers of the sin of anxiety over the necessities of life (Matthew 6:25–34). As the Father provides for birds of the air, He will provide for His children (v. 26). He clothes the common wildflowers in their short-lived existence with beauty that shames the glorious attire of King Solomon (v. 28). Will not God take better care of His own servants (vv. 28, 29)?
The objective of this section is that one cannot serve God and mammon (v. 24b). Mammon comes from the Aramaic root meaning “that in which one trusts.” The term personifies and deifies one’s material possessions, not the Heavenly Father, as the object of one’s trust. This is why Jesus rebuked the anxious with, “O you of little faith” (v. 30). How many Christians are guilty of this very sin and choose to ignore it because their pursuit of these things gives them status and personal satisfaction. The bottom line is that loving and serving mammon diverts one from serving God. It also hinders one’s pursuit of God’s kingdom and righteousness (v. 33).
Righteousness is the state of one whose way of thinking, feeling, and living is wholly conformed to the will of God, needing no rectification in the heart or life. Of course, only Jesus Christ meets this standard. He is the righteous One (Isaiah 53:11; Acts 3:14; 7:52). Nevertheless, by Him and in Him God has designed to bring many to righteousness (“The righteous one, my servant [shall] make many to be accounted righteous”—Isaiah 53:11; 1 Peter 4:18). “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). All true believers in Jesus are made righteous in the righteousness of Jesus (1 Peter 1:18). Sanctification is the work of God's transforming the life of those made righteous in Christ (his standing) so that his state will also be truly righteous.
The focus of God in Scripture is primarily eschatological (judgment and the final destiny of humankind) and not soteriological (salvation of humankind), as is often presumed. This is clearly evident in Matthew 6:25–34, where Jesus redirects one’s focus from the cares of life to seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness. Much false teaching focuses more on God's saving people from suffering because of their sinful ways than from the sins' alienating them from God. Peter explains the truth: “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And ‘If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’” (1 Peter 4:17, 18). Peter assures suffering saints that God’s will is being done in their suffering because He wants them to be righteous. “Therefore, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good [pursuing righteousness] (v. 19). It is too easy to get comfortable in the world; thus, God uses trials and suffering to move His people to earnest seeking of the kingdom. They do so with this promise: “The Coming One will come [in the kingdom] and will not delay; but [in the meantime] my righteous one shall live by faith” (Hebrews 10:37, 38, citing Habakkuk 2:3, 4). By faith they “seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness.”  

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Anxiety or Peace?

Jesus stated a simple but profound truth: “You cannot serve God and mammon” Matthew 6:24b). The term mammon comes from the Aramaic root meaning “that in which one trusts.” It personifies wealth and sets it over against God. In other words, Jesus asks, “Who do you trust, God or wealth?” The one you trust is the one you serve. You cannot serve both, for serving demands love and devotion. The test of your devotion comes in verse 25: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life.”  
The term, anxious, appears 6 times (the number of man) in the passage (vv. 25–34). Luke 10 provides an apt illustration of the problem. Martha complained to Jesus about Mary's inattention to preparation details for entertaining Jesus and His disciples. Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving” (vv. 39, 40). The Lord responded, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (vv. 41, 42).
Perhaps I am presuming, but knowing many women who love to entertain, there is a certain pride one exhibits in impressing guests with the quality of one’s food and the serving to those who enjoy it. Was Martha exhibiting this pride? The nature of the Lord’s gentle rebuke would suggest as much. Jesus plainly states, “One thing is necessary,” and that thing is loving devotion to Christ. True loving devotion is exemplified by Mary whose priority was Jesus Himself. Martha’s priority was impressing Jesus with her service. How many Christians mimic Mary, and how many mimic Martha? Jesus identified Martha as anxious and troubled about many things.”
The evidence that one serves mammon is anxiety. This is exactly what Jesus explains in the text before us. “Therefore” joins the two concepts. If one serves God, he must not be anxious about his life. If one is anxious about his life, he serves the god, Mammon. One cannot interpret this otherwise. Martha welcomed the Lord into her home. However, her care (anxiety) was not for Christ and His welfare, but for her “things,” things that had to do with her life.
Jesus defines the things one is not to be anxious for—“what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on” (v. 25). Food and clothing are metaphors for the necessities of life. Why should these things not concern us? Three clear reasons: First, life is more than these things. Indeed, the Gentiles seek the security of mammon, but Christ-followers “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (v. 33). Second, mammon-seekers have little faith in God’s care and provision. The Lord promises that “all these things will be added to you” (v. 33b). Finally, the care for mammon never ends. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (v. 34).
Paul reflects the Lord in Philippians: “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:5–7). Examine your life. Is it characterized by anxiety or the peace that passes all understanding?