Jesus has been both instructing and illustrating about greatness in the Kingdom and great crowds began to follow him. From instruction on forgiveness, marriage and divorce, and OT instructions, the ultimate question is now addressed: How am I saved? How do I gain eternal life? What are the standards or obstacles to eternal glory with God? No question could be larger, nor Jesus answer any more direct.
1. Asking the Right Questions about Eternity – Understanding What We Don’t Have. This rich young ruler seemingly had it all - wealth, young, standing in the community. But he at least understood – and was likely restless about – that he did not yet have an assurance of eternal life, of redemption, of his salvation. That is a good start, from whatever vantage point. The first step to redemption is understanding our need, the fact that we lack the righteous standing before God. And his life was commendable from virtually every external standard.
2. Eternity Measures our Lives By Heart Issues. But this man’s core issue remained. He had displaced, he loved money rather than God. The test: give everything away! Strip away anything competing for following God and the message of Jesus. And to that test, this remarkable but worldly young man failed, declined Jesus’ advice, and went away sad. Rich in this world, a pauper in matters of eternity. It was wealth that crowded out God for this man, in the core of his being, in his mind and heart.
3. Understanding Competition for Eternal Issues in Our World. This point cannot be overemphasized in our affluent world. Money and wealth compete for, and crowd out, our devotion to God. Better it be given away then we end up outside the kingdom, or least in the kingdom, following the instructions to a childlike faith.
So what do we do? I grew up very poor, in a single-parent home. I now have a net worth by most standards considered wealthy. Do I give it all away? Maybe. Don’t dismiss that as an option. Do I ramp up my giving and commitment to those who are my neighbors, whose need I see and whose need I can meet? For sure. Jesus commands his disciples not to lay up treasures on earth (Mt. 6:19). Instead, sell treasured possessions, give to the poor, and have treasure in heaven; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Mt. 6:20-21; Lk. 12:33-34). The only rich follower who did that in the Gospels was Zacchaeus, who gave half of his goods to the poor and repaid four times as much as what he had gotten from fraud (Lk. 19:1-8).
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy,[a] your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy,[b] your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. Matthew 6:19-24.
6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 2 Cor 9:6
God give us grace and wisdom as we face these issues straight on, asking how to conduct my life in my brief years on this planet in a matter that pleases God. Next week, the commitment to follow Jesus as a disciple follows directly from this instruction on the dangers of wealth and money. Stay well.
- John Moore
Jesus has been both instructing and illustrating about greatness in the Kingdom, and great crowds began to follow him. The religious charlatans, understanding their power was slipping, came to Jesus with a theological test: if marriage is a divine ordinance – and it is – then what about conflicting instruction from Moses allowing for divorce. How can both be true? Jesus now begins to instruct on the obstacles to faith and living in an honorable way in the Kingdom.
3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason? 4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’[a] 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’[b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Matthew 19:3-6.
1. Marriage: The Biblical Model. From the beginning of creation, the model is clear – we are made for relationships. Men and women are made for each other. They meet a need for each other not otherwise met within our design. Adam’s delight in Eve was immediate and was blessed by God. From that ordinance, in the garden of Eden, all of the human race – sons of Adam and daughters of Eve - came. And in marriage, God intended for the greatest of joy and fulfillment to be something of heaven on earth – joys of family and generations, marked out as examples of the grace and mercy of God. So what happened?
2. Divorce: The Demise of God’s Plan. But, as with sin in the garden, that plan was and is not followed. As such, Moses allowed an exception. Moses (aka God) permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. God’s provision for marriage and family was broken by sin. The fallout led to broken relationships, divided families, and disputes that tore apart Israel and now the church.
3. Divorce Now: A Narrow Exception. Lest we misconstrue the Mosaic exception, Jesus brings his listeners back to the heavenly model: anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another, commits adultery. This exception, porneia in the original language, is sexual infidelity. It has a broader application to other abuses in marriage and the family but is not broad and is not lighthearted. In other words, for someone to contemplate divorce, it should only be applied after serious and prolonged consideration. It is not unusual in my practice that a client only seeks out legal advice on this subject after years of consideration and attempts at counseling and reconciliation.
4. How Narrow is the Exception? Really, really narrow. The Rabbinic teaching was simply that if a man did not approve of his wife, he merely clapped his hands three times, exclaiming "I divorce you" and it was done. The disciples clearly understood how narrow was this exception, such that the person who never married both avoided this prospect of eventual adultery and set him or herself apart for Kingdom work remaining single.
This subject is personal to me twofold: first, because I have been divorced and remarried, without the above biblical exception, meaning my remarriage was sinful and not honorable, and secondly, because of my work as a family law attorney, attending now to hundreds of divorces over my 30-year career. For the first, I have been forgiven as to my remarriage but recognize the continuing consequences of divorce in relationships and in the family. In that, I am responsible for those consequences and pray daily for grace and mercy among my family and people. And to the second, as a Christian attorney, I am obligated to provide not only the legal standards for divorce but, when asked, remind my clients of the biblical instructions of this and other related passages. This is not an easy subject, and the humility of being a child in the Kingdom while seeking wisdom is always our fallback.
This, then, is the human model and dilemma. We know what is right, we often do not do what is right, and the only further damage is to apply self-deception to refuse to own up to our sin and seek available remedies. Of course, no one is without sin. We all stumble in many ways (James 3:2), and to even look on a woman with lust is adultery – 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’[a] 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27-28 . The issue is not sinners vs. non-sinners. The issue is understanding God’s standard, being reminded of our need for redemption and grace, and staying at the feet of Jesus in our pilgrimage and walk. Next week, another obstacle to spiritual growth – riches and wealth. Stay well.
- John Moore
Jesus has been both instructing and illustrating about greatness in the Kingdom by the life of a child – he who wants to be great should be least, have the humility of a child, and that the delight of God is for salvation to come to all without one lost. This love necessarily includes forgiveness. Forgiveness includes two parties – the offender and the offended. Now Jesus is tested at a legalistic level - how often should I forgive? The answer is unexpected.
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.[a] Matthew 18:21-22.
1. Forgiveness: Measured by the Heart. You have to love Peter. Fumbling through confusion with the message of Jesus, right answers and affirmations at times, and testing the limits of the Kingdom as taught by Jesus. The Rabbinical teaching was forgiving 6 times. Peter ups his game and questions and suggests 7 times. Jesus answer: if you are counting, you are not forgiving. It is a matter of the heart, not of calculation. It is to be without limits.
2. Parable of Non-Forgiveness. To emphasize His point, Jesus give a parable of the unmerciful servant. Having been forgiven by his master of a massive debt, with the plea of mercy and patience, he immediately went out and demanded repayment of lesser debt from another, after receiving the same follow up plea from this new debtor for patience. In other words, the encouragement for forgiveness is from the forgiveness we have received from others – or in this case, from God.
3. Warning for Those Who Refuse to Forgive. And to emphasize His point, Jesus warns that for those unwilling to forgive, in the same measure in which they have been forgiven, the life consequences are severe. This point could not have been missed by the disciples and would be increasingly applicable as they moved into the realm of the enemies of Jesus and the cross and persecution of the church.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:12-13.
Important note: Forgiveness does not erase consequences, nor does it require that we forget offenses. Often that is impossible. Rather, it means you continue to extend out the love of God to those who do not deserve it. Remember, neither did we!
There is a broad path to the values of the world, and a narrow path for the pilgrim following Jesus. Blessing on you as you apply these forgiveness, mercy and love principles…even when others don’t deserve it. Next week: Instruction of divorce, which follows directly form instruction on forgiveness. Stay well.
- John Moore, Owner/Proprietor
Jesus has been both instructing and illustrating about greatness in the Kingdom by the life of a child. This love necessarily includes forgiveness. Forgiveness includes two parties – the offender and the offended. The following instruction is to be the common and regular practice of the church, though in our day it is virtually non-existent, at least at the corporate level.
15 “If your brother or sister[a] sins,[b] go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’[c] 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector." Matthew 18:15-17.
1. The Preamble. Humility. Context is critical in this passage. The hard work of humble confrontation, of explaining sin and its offense or being corrected as to a misunderstanding, takes courage, wisdom and humility. It starts with childlike humility. 1 Corinthians 10:12: So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! James 3:2: 2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. The last thing needed is for one who has been offended by the sin of another to come as if they are above a similar sin or more self-righteous than the one confronted.
2. The Process. 4 Steps: 1. Go and show him his fault. 2. Go a second time with one or two others. 3. Tell it to the church. 4. Treat him as a pagan or tax gatherer. Between each step, the wayward pilgrim has rejected the request for confession and repentance; hence, the levels and accountability and consequences are increased. The backdrop assumed in this process is that disciples enjoy a common fellowship and relationship in the church, having taken Jesus and His message seriously, and committed to an honest life in the church. James 1:26-27 26Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
3. The Product. The remarkable promise is that Christians that follow this process should expect a spiritual power and impact on those around them: ‘bound on earth is bound in heaven, loosed on earth is loosed in heaven, agree on what is asked for and it will be done. Matthew 18:20: 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” In other words, spiritual integrity among Christians and the church results in spiritual impact and results for those around us. Amazing promise.
Sadly, at least in my experience, this process is lacking. While individual confrontation can and likely does happen with some regularity, for the wayward saint who refuses to repent, the third and fourth level – the gathering of the church to pray for and plead for repentance – I have only seen and been a part of twice in the church. Interestingly, both times were successful with the individual saint turning from their sin and beginning the restoration process with those he or she has damaged. Again, this process is not to condemn or embarrass as an end in itself but to plead for repentance for an individual turning from his or her sin which will only lead to spiritual disaster.
There is a secular banner that I like – and use with some regularity. It is: Take what we do seriously, but do not take ourselves with the same seriousness. On the one hand, we all have feet of clay, are prone to stumble, struggle with sin, and need the gentle encouragement of others for spiritual living. On the other hand, what we do, and how we live, is critically important and is the path to individual and community spirituality that unleashes the power of heaven toward us and those around us. Again, amazing. Stay well. Next week - What happens to those who refuse to act with grace and mercy.
- John Moore