Grow in Grace

Ah, an Enemies’ Love. There are few things in life that are as challenging to us as believers as loving our enemies. (Matthew 5:43-48) Sure praying for them, or should I say, against them is easy. But as we come to Matthew 5:43-44, Jesus now quotes Leviticus 19:17-18~Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. (NIV) Christ Jesus makes one small addition adding in the perversion of the rabbis: You have heard that it was said, love and hate…(5:43). Nowhere does the Old Testament teach us to hate one’s enemies. To set the record straight in Matthew 5:44~But I tell you to love (ἀγαπάω agapaō) your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (ESV). The word (ἀγαπάω agapaō) love is the verb form of the Greek noun Agape. It is a self-sacrificing love that seeks to meet the needs of others. Which means the love of God is so powerful in those who are righteous by faith in Jesus Christ, that they love their enemies. 

Christ Jesus explains this makes us children of our Father in heaven who makes the sunrise and sends rain on evil, as well as, good people. (5:45) If God is in us, then we will live, act, and love, like our Heavenly Father. As His children, we’ll seek to emulate Him in all of our living. Love is so much more than just what we know, see, taste, or perceive. The challenge is to expand our horizon as we let God, who sees all and knows all, direct our path, being utilized by our maker. Do you remember the last time God used you for His glory? Wasn’t that an amazing experience. In a nutshell, Jesus says be perfect. Matthew 5:48~Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (ESV) (τέλειος teleios) or perfect, it means to reach the intended end. In James 1:4 James calls it maturity or completeness. While Paul says in Philippians 3:12, I am not quite there yet, but I am working on it. Perhaps you are like me, singing the Worship Word classic: He’s still working on me, To make me what I need to be, It took him just a week to make the moon and stars, The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars, How loving and patient He must be, ’Cause He’s still workin’ on me. ~ Bill Gather ~

Our Takeaway for the week is: Are you working on Spiritual Maturity? For believers, it means being righteous, and not just religious. Being in Christ, as Peter even gets in on our Lord’s powerful teaching by sharing some benefits of being righteous in 1 Peter 3:12~For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. (NIV) That is a wonderful blessing for all who are in the Lord. Are you in the Lord today? If not why not take time to ask Jesus into your heart, to change your life, and to renew you with His righteousness. If you are already a believer, our righteousness comes by faith in Jesus. Which means we’ll abhor divorce, abandon all deceit, resist retaliation, and love like Jesus, even our enemies. Take some time today to thank the Lord for working in your life, to mature your faith, help you be, all that He has created you to be.

Pay it forward

I bet you are not like me. There is probably never a time in your life when you hope that special someone in your life would just get what they have coming. I mean, what the Lord wants to give them, of course. If we are not careful we will get sucked into wanting to help pay people back for things that were said or done to us and our family and friends. To this, Jesus says, resist retaliation. (5:38-42) Our Lord uses the Pharisee catchphrase in Matthew 5:38~You have heard that it was said, Eye for eye, and a tooth for a tooth. (ESV) Mosaic Law speaks to retaliation, limiting it to no more than equal compensation. Exodus 21:23-25~But if there is a serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. (NIV) However, many Jews had perverted God’s Law to be permission for vendettas and vengeance. This was never God’s intent. Leviticus 19:18~Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. (NIV) 

Obviously, the issue was to be settled in a court, and the punishment was to fit the crime. The law gave judges a formula for dealing with crime in court, not in personal vendettas. Because the Jews had perverted God’s original intent, in response Jesus says in Matthew 5:39~But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (ESV) That doesn’t mean we let someone beat us to death. But it does means we turn the other cheek, which would not otherwise be hit. Why, who would do this? Righteous people would, they would do this out of their generous spirit towards those in legitimate need, that’s the key because they know everything they have comes from God.

Matthew 5:40~And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. (ESV) Now the tunic was a type of shirt worn as an undergarment while the cloak was an outer garment also used as a blanket or shawl. In Christ Jesus’s day, most people had only one. When a person had no money, the court often would require the judgment to be paid in clothing. If a fair legal judgment is made against us for a certain amount, Jesus says we should be willing to give even more to show regret for the wrong and to show there is no resentment against the one who sued. The principle Jesus is sharing is that we are not to be vengeful. 

This triggers the thought of Romans 12:21~Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (NIV) Whether we are carrying luggage or people who are hurt and lashing out at us, Jesus says, give and do not let bitterness take root in your life. Why is this a good principle? It reminds us that God has given us all things and that we are to live cheerful and generous lives according to 2 Corinthians 9:7. Who might need a little cheerful gift today that spills out of our gratitude for all that God has given us. Why not pay forward the joy of the Lord and the blessing in your life by ministering to someone near, and in need.

Our Mouths Reveal Our Motives

Have you ever had to Abandon Deceit? As Jesus shares in Matthew 5:33-37 He says, again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ Matthew 5:33~(ESV) Jesus is referring to taking an oath in which we use the Lord’s name as our guarantee, and then breaking it. Back to Leviticus 19:12~Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD. (NIV) God says to us I am holy, so don’t drag my name through the mud.

Well that seems relevant today, right? Christ Jesus calling out some rabbis who’d developed a way to sidestep this command. They taught that swearing by God’s name was binding, but swearing by heaven, earth, Jerusalem or insert here, was a not so binding loophole. So, be emphatic to get our way, then we can change our mind because we weren’t swearing by God. For us it’d be like saying such things as I swear on my mother’s grave or pretend your seven years old again and say this with me, cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye, or give me a stack of Bibles. However, Jesus says in Matthew 5:34-36~But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. (ESV) Ms. Clairol notwithstanding, ladies, you cannot do it on your own.

As an aside, most people begin to show grey hairs in their 30s, and Christ Jesus says righteous people don’t need to guarantee their word with an oath because when they say Yes, that settles it. Many of us grew up in a day and time when the words of John D. Rockefeller Jr. rang true. He said:  I believe in the sacredness of a promise, that a man’s word should be as good as his bond: that character—not wealth or power or position—is of supreme worth. Jesus says in Matthew 5:37~All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (ESV) So are we driven by the truth? Is our Yes, to be believed? Some believers take this to mean we must refuse to even take an oath in a court of law. What Christ Jesus is stressing is the importance of always telling the truth. 

Every believer and faith practitioner ought to have the singular purpose of walking in the Way of Righteousness as we abandon deceit. Why not take some time today and ask God to reveal if there is a place that needs some reorganizing, or cleaning out. We all have closets that get piled up, and filled with stuff, ask the Lord to help you with a little spring cleaning.