Thursday, September 14, 2017

Reading Through the Gospel of Matthew #2 (5-7)

Keener MatthewWe continue reading through the Gospel of Matthew accompanied by Matthew, vol. 1, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, by Craig S. Keener. This section is probably a summary of Jesus’ teaching and the content here was likely spoken by Jesus many times in many venues. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version (for some reason I cannot make the page numbers come up in the quotes) of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

Keener sees Matthew 5-7 as a summary of Jesus' teaching, placed in a mountain setting to emphasize that Jesus is a "greater than Moses" means of God's revelation. He emphasizes the shocking nature of the teaching's requirements to be a kingdom disciple, but also emphasizes that the entire sermon must be understood in a context of grace. The introduction in 5.1-16 must be read holistically as the required character for a kingdom disciple. Basically, the main point is that the disciple of Jesus must live the kind of self-giving lifestyle that Jesus lived. We cannot live for ourselves or for our own personal agendas, but instead be focused on God's will and kingdom even if that brings persecution and death.

Jesus summons those who would be his followers to radical devotion and radical dependence on God. His followers must be meek, must not retaliate, must go beyond the letter’s law to its spirit, must do what is right when only God is looking, must depend on God for their needs and pursue his interests rather than their own, and must leave spiritual measurements of others’ hearts to God. In short, true people of the kingdom live for God, not for themselves. Matthew 5:1-16

If we truly repent in light of the coming kingdom, we will treat our neighbors rightly. No one who has humbled himself or herself before God can act with wanton self-interest in relationships. Those with the faith to await the vindication of the righteous in God’s kingdom can afford to be righteous, to relinquish the pursuit of their own rights, because they know the just judge will vindicate them as they seek his ways of justice. Matthew 5:3-9

Here Jesus takes his ethic of nonretaliation to its furthest possible length: not only must we refuse to strike back, but we are to rejoice when persecuted. The persecution itself confirms our trust in God’s promise of reward, because the prophets suffered likewise. The prophetic role of a disciple is analogous to and greater than that of an Old Testament prophet...But here Jesus summons us to a greater honor than being prophets; he summons us to bear the name—the honor—of Jesus.  Matthew 5:10-12

In the rest of chapter 5 Jesus challenges those who would be His disciples with some very hard, perhaps hyperbolic, teaching about our relationship to God's law. The point is that legalistic fulfilling of the letter of the law is not enough. God wants total transformation of our hearts, goals,and desires to match His character and that we value His kingdom above our own desires and even our own needs. It is not enough to agree with Jesus. We must imitate His actions here. Jesus gives six examples in the chapter of His very stringent application of the law. God eternally judges based on the motivation of the heart, not just the action. We may seem okay on the outside but the law judges unjust anger, lust or coveting, betrayal (divorce), integrity (oaths), what we really love (retribution or resistance) and what we really value (love for enemies). Jesus calls us to carefully consider, not just what we do, but our motivations for being and doing, and humbly commit to imitation of Christ in the power of the Spirit.

Jesus essentially says, “Look, if you thought the law was tough, wait till you see this. If you really want to be my disciples, give me your hearts without reservation.” This passage seems to suggest that an uncommitted Christian is not a Christian at all...After grabbing his hearers’ attention with such a statement, Jesus goes on to define God’s law not simply in terms of how people behave but in terms of who they really are. Matthew 5:21–48

Through a variety of terrible images, Jesus indicates that when we damage our relationships with others, we damage our relationship with God, leading to eternal punishment. A man who beats his wife, a woman who continually ridicules her husband, and a thousand other concrete examples could illustrate the principle. We must profess our faith with our lives as well as with our lips. Matthew 5:21-26

Jesus reads the humanly unenforceable tenth commandment as if it matters as much as the other, more humanly enforceable commandments. If you do not break the letter of the other commandments, but you want to do so in your heart, you are guilty. God judges a sinful heart, and hearts that desire what belongs to others are guilty. Matthew 5:27-30

We can appeal to no law to tell us that we are righteous enough—that would be legalism. Instead, we must desire God’s will so much that we seek to please him in every area of our lives—that is holiness. Jesus says that God’s law was never about mere rules; instead, God desires a complete righteousness of the heart, a total devotion to God’s purposes in this world. Matthew 5.21-48

Chapter 6 continues Jesus' teaching and focuses on the need for disciples to prioritize God's kingdom in everything we do. Personal piety should be practiced before God as an audience of one, not for a human audience (1-18) and God's kingdom work should be prioritized over personal wealth and possessions as evidenced by our generosity to the needy (19-34). Jesus uses 3 examples of personal religious practice, charity, prayer and fasting, to teach that grandstanding religion to impress people is useless. Instead our prayer and service should come from a heart devoted to God and His kingdom. Wealth is not a bad thing, but its use reflects our real devotion to God. Wealthy people should use their wealth, not to gain luxuries for themselves, but to serve God's kingdom by serving God's people. Less wealthy people should not worry about their needs and live their lives focused on getting rich, but should trust God to meet their needs. Keener rightly emphasizes that Jesus is speaking somewhat hyperbolically here, but this does not mean we can dismiss or try to get around what He is saying. We need regular self-examination of our motives for ministry and evaluation of how we use the resources God gives us.

Much of today’s church is divided between those who emphasize personal intimacy with God in prayer and those who emphasize justice for the true poor. Like the prophets of old, however, Jesus demanded both (6:2–13; Mk 12:40); he also recognized that without keeping God himself in view, we can pervert either form of piety. Matthew 6:2-18

Because prayer promises the hearing of an Advocate more powerful than any other, it goes without saying that those who spend little time in prayer do not in practice believe much in a God who answers prayer; but Jesus goes one step beyond this charge. Those who spend much time in prayer so they may impress others with their piety likewise lack faith in a God who rewards us by answering prayer or at the coming of his kingdom. Slicing through the veneer of human religion, Jesus exposes the functional atheism of our hearts. Matthew 6:5-15

Jesus exhorts us not to value possessions enough to seek them (6:19–24), quite in contrast to today’s prosperity preachers and most of Western society. Yet he also exhorts us not to value possessions enough to worry about them (vv. 25–34), a fault shared by most believers who rightly reject the prosperity teaching. Jesus’ words strike at the core of human selfishness, challenging both the well-to-do who have possessions to guard and the poor who wish they could acquire them. His words are so uncomfortable that even those of us who say we love him and fight to defend Scripture’s authority find ourselves looking for ways around what he says. Matthew, 6:19-34

Church buildings are valuable, but when they take precedence over caring for the poor or evangelism, our priorities appear to focus more on our comfort than on the world’s need—as if we desire padded pews more than new brothers and sisters filling the kingdom. Have we altogether forgotten the spiritual passion of the early church and nineteenth-century evangelicalism? Matthew 6:19-24

Chapter 7 concludes the "sermon on the mount" by gathering more of Jesus' regular teachings. The distinctive of this chapter is the authority of Jesus. He equates His word with that of torah and makes final judgment dependent on obedience to His words (24-29). On judging, Jesus urges thorough self-examination before we try to deal with issues in the lives of others. On prayer, Jesus talks about the Father's great willingness to answer the prayers of kingdom focused people and the great power their prayers have. On discerning our own hearts and recognizing false prophets, Jesus urges us to look at behavior and lifestyle, not giftedness. Do we and do our leaders live a life of obedience to Jesus' teachings? Growing obedience is the demonstration of real faith.

Just in case we have been too obtuse to grasp that Jesus addresses us rather than others in 5:3–6:34, Jesus renders the point explicit in 7:1–5. We are objects of God’s evaluation, and God evaluates most graciously the meek, who recognize God alone as judge...he is not warning us not to discern truth from error. Further, Jesus does not oppose offering correction, but only offering correction in the wrong spirit. Matthew 7:1-6

Jesus intends his words to jar us from complacency, to consider the genuineness of our commitment to him. One wonders how many members in our churches today assume that they are saved when in fact they treat Jesus’ teachings lightly—people who give no thought to their temper, their mental chastity, their integrity and so forth during the week then pretend to be religious or even spiritually gifted in church...Some texts in the Bible provide assurance to suffering Christians that the kingdom is theirs; this text challenges “cultural Christians,” those following only Christian tradition rather than Christ himself, to realize that they need conversion. Matthew 7:13-23

One cannot be content with calling Jesus a great teacher, for he taught that he was more than a mere teacher; one must either accept all his teachings, including those that demand we submit to his lordship, or reject him altogether. Jesus is not one way among many; he is the standard of judgment.  Matthew 7:24-29

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