A CONCISE STUDY OF
THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT
© Emmanuel Adeniyi (2021)
Table of Contents
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Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (AMP) are taken from The Amplified Bible Copyright © 2015 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, CA 90631. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (MSG) are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
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Copyright © 2021 by Emmanuel Adeniyi
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It has been said that fathers are like ladders to help us see farther. I'm so thankful for all the true fathers (and mothers) in the faith whether or not their words are cited in this book, especially Zac Poonen, the man whose teachings have influenced me the most. My deep gratitude also goes to Paul Rapoza for his magnanimity and effort in getting this book published.
I consider myself very blessed to have someone in my life who has been highly instrumental in refilling my pen when it's running out of ink and my vehicle when it's running out of fuel. It's the person of Halimatu Abdullahi. She is a precious gift of God to me. I also appreciate family, friends and everyone who has inspired me in one way or the other.
Finally, my deepest gratitude goes to the Author of my salvation Himself, the very Source of my inspiration, the God and Father of my Lord Jesus Christ, the Spirit of the holy prophets. To Him alone be all the glory and honor forever and ever. Amen.
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When Jesus was about to be received up to Heaven, He gave His disciples this instruction, popularly called the Great Commission:
All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and MAKE DISCIPLES of All the nations, baptizing them in the NAME of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to OBSERVE ALL THINGS that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matt 28:19, 20)
I want you to take note of the words in block letters. First we see that the great commission is about making disciples and not just gathering converts like many seem to be doing today. Converting people is like giving birth to children; making them disciples is like raising up responsible children who are useful to God and humanity. Nowadays many believers seem to be interested in the former, but very few seem to have interest in the latter which apparently is more important and more demanding. We are also told how we are to make disciples of every nation on earth: by baptizing them in the name—singular, not names, indicating the oneness of the three Persons of the Godhead—of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; and by teaching them to observe (practice and not merely know) all things (not just some nor even most things) that Jesus has commanded (and taught). And we are to do all that with all authority in heaven and on earth given to Jesus and to us by extension, and with assurance that the Lord is with us in this great work even to the very end.
Now let me ask: How many professing Christians know all that Jesus commanded and taught, or at least are serious about knowing it? How many have read through the New Testament, at least once, to know all that Jesus taught both personally as recorded in the Gospels and through the Spirit-inspired writings of His holy apostles? I hope you have, my dear reader! But if you haven’t, you can begin today and read through the 260 chapters of the New Testament within three months, provided you read an average of three chapters daily. Also, if you discipline yourself, you can read through the 1,189 chapters of the whole Bible within a year, provided you read at least three chapters daily.
I’ve observed that there are three groups of Christians regarding attitude toward the study of the written Word of God, aka the Bible and the Holy Scripture. First is the group of “my pastor says”: this group of Christians feed largely on the teachings of their pastor (bishop or leader), with little or no interest in personal study of the Scriptures to know whether those teachings consent to or agree with the wholesome teachings of Christ. Second is the group of Christians who seem to have a good degree of interest in the knowledge of God’s Word and Jesus’ teachings; nevertheless, they seem to be more interested in other Christian literature than in the Bible itself, they are like a woman who seems to be more interested in what others have to say about her spouse (perhaps because of their eloquence) than in talking directly with him. Third is the group of Christians who, like Job, treasure the Word of God as much as, and even more than, their physical food; such Christians live in the Bible, though they may visit other Christian literature; like the Bereans, they have the noble attitude of “testing all things” through regular study of the Scriptures coupled with the illumination of the Holy Spirit; they subject every doctrine (teaching) and every practice to the searchlight of Scripture regardless of who teaches the doctrine or does the practice, so as to see whether or not they are in alignment with the teachings of Christ and the ways of God (see Job 23:12; Acts 17:10-11; 1 Thess. 5:21). The third group is where we all should belong, if we are wise and if we are to fulfill God’s full purposes for our lives. If those Bereans—who lived at a time when there were no soft copies of the Bible nor even printed copies, but only Old Testament scriptures written (with pen and ink) on scrolls with very limited copies available and with no divisions into chapters and verses, as we have today for easier study and citation—could take the study of Scripture seriously, then we have no excuse if we are ignorant of God’s Word and if we fall a prey to deception.
In His sermon on the Mount Jesus teaches the disciples many things concerning the new covenant life of grace and truth as opposed to, or rather as above, the old covenant life of dos and don’ts. There He shows us the right attitudes which the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of grace and truth, seeks to produce in the believer as well as the wrong attitudes of which the believer must rid himself. Toward the end of the sermon, He also warns us about false prophets (and ministers) who come in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves—such include so many ignoramuses on pulpit today who claim that these teachings of Christ are only applicable to His Jewish audience and not to Christians. This revolutionary sermon recorded in Matthew’s Gospel chapters five through to seven, is a good place for us to begin, if we are serious about knowing the whole truth of the gospel of the grace of God as taught and revealed by the Lord Jesus.
The Sermon on the Mount is so profound and broad that it can’t be exhausted, even if 10,000 books were written about it. But I trust the Lord to help us understand beyond what’s explained in this little book. One major aim of this book is to stir up the reader’s mind to seek to know and understand all that Jesus has taught and all that He expects of you as a new creation, knowing that all His teachings and commands are for our highest good. It’s good for us to know what Jesus has taught either by reading or hearing, but head knowledge alone isn’t enough. Beyond head knowledge, we must wholeheartedly seek to obey (keep, do, practice) the sound teachings of Christ. That way, we will be like a wise man who builds his house on the rock.
The sermon can be divided into three parts which we shall consider one after the other.
1.The beatitudes: nine attitudes which are becoming (expected) of the Christian who is described as a new creation according to 2 Corinthians 5:17 (Matt 5:3-16).
2.The wrong attitudes: nine attitudes which are unbecoming of the new creation in Christ (Matt 5:17-7:6).
3.Closing exhortations and warnings: praying and considering two gates and two ways, two types of tree, and two kinds of builder (Matt 7:7-27).
Please note that the attitudes discussed in this book, both right and wrong, are basically inner dispositions or states of the mind (and heart) which inevitably become manifest outwardly, in one’s speech and conduct. It’s also important for you to note that the words “testament” and “covenant,” which appear dozens of times in this book, don’t have exactly the same meaning, though they are related to each other. The word “testament” (as used in this book) refers to the writings of the Bible, that is, the Old Testament—the first part of the Bible containing 39 books, from Genesis to Malachi—and the New Testament—the second part of the Bible containing 27 books, from Matthew to Revelation. Covenant, on the other hand, refers to the agreement between God and man as found in the Bible, that is, the old covenant—the agreement between God and the nation of Israel, of which Moses was the mediator, which is not only explained in the Old Testament but also cited in some New Testament scriptures—and the new covenant—the agreement between God and the Church, of which Jesus is the Mediator, which is not only revealed in the New Testament but also foretold in some Old Testament scriptures. As in all agreements, each covenant has its own “terms and conditions”—promises and commands—some of which this book attempts to explain. The Bible presents both promises which we are to believe and commands which we are to obey, all for the glory of God and our highest good.
My earnest desire (and prayer) for you, dear reader, is that you won’t be offended by the truths shared in this book, but rather you will be gripped by them and live them out and share them with others (beginning with your family and friends). I bet that these truths, if accepted and believed, will nourish your soul, though they may not excite your flesh. May I encourage you to read on with all meekness and open-mindedness, with a humble and teachable spirit that is willing to learn, unlearn and relearn?
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The Sermon on the Mount is the first teaching of Jesus recorded in the pages of the New Testament, though it’s not the first sermon that He preached when He began His public ministry. His first ever sermon is perhaps recorded in the fourth chapter of Luke’s Gospel, the message He preached when He came to His hometown (Nazareth) after His 40-days fasting and prayer in the wilderness. All of Jesus’ teachings are very, very important, and we will do well if we pay close attention to them. But I think we need to pay even closer attention to the sermon on the Mount, not only because it’s Jesus’ first sermon found in the New Testament, but also because in it He explains at great length the new covenant life loaded with spiritual and heavenly blessings primarily in contrast with the old covenant life whose blessings are physical and earthly basically.
In Matthew’s Gospel chapter five we read that when Jesus saw the multitudes, He went up on a mountain. And being seated with His disciples, “He opened His mouth and taught them” (Matt 5:2). The “them” in that passage, I suppose, refers to His disciples primarily and not the mixed multitudes. The words in this sermon are obviously children’s bread; they are not meant for the “dogs” (unbelievers), as Jesus Himself seems to imply toward the end of the sermon (Matt 7:6). Only the true children of God, the disciples of Jesus, can value the treasures contained in this paradigm-shift-provoking sermon and apply the principles therein to their daily lives. But to those outside the Kingdom of God it’s just a “great sermon,” at best.
Jesus began the sermon by declaring the word “blessed” nine times. Let’s see the Scripture:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5:3-12)
If we compare the above passage with Deuteronomy 28:1-14, we will see the stark contrast between what it means to be blessed under the new covenant and under the old covenant. As said before, the old covenant blessings are essentially physical and earthly, as in material riches, abundance of livestock and farm produce, victory over human enemies, plenty of biological children and so on. Whereas, the new covenant blessings are basically spiritual and heavenly, as clearly stated in the above passage and some other passages of the Bible such as:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. (Eph. 1:3)
It has been said that the beatitudes literally mean BE-attitudes, that is, attitudes which are becoming of the Christian who is described as a new creation according to 2 Corinthians 5:17,
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
Note that these attitudes are essentially inner dispositions or states of the mind (and heart) which inevitably become manifest outwardly, in one’s speech and conduct, over time. Now let’s consider them one by one.
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Beatitude 1: Poverty of Spirit
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:3)
Here we see that the master key that opens every door in the Kingdom of Heaven, aka the Kingdom of God, is poverty of spirit. What does it mean to be poor in spirit? An idea of poverty in terms of money and material things will help us understand what it means to be poor in spirit. Poverty simply means need (want or scarcity) of something. Talking about poverty, a beggar on the street is one example that comes readily to the mind. A street beggar is so aware of his need that he has to depend constantly on others for his physical sustenance. Likewise, the poor in spirit are those who have a deep sense of their spiritual need, and thus they are helplessly dependent on God for their spiritual sustenance and everything else. They have come to realize that without God their spirit can’t survive, just as that poor beggar has come to know that he can’t survive if he has no means of getting food and other necessities of life that his body needs. And so they can’t but go to God constantly and relentlessly, like the beggar has to go to the street regularly to get something by which he may be sustained. The New Living Translation (NLT) puts it this way:
God blesses those who realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them. (Matt 5:3)
God may not help us until we humble ourselves to acknowledge our need for Him. For instance, the Pharisees in the days of Jesus couldn't access the “first door” in the Kingdom—forgiveness of sins—simply because they wouldn't acknowledge their need for God’s mercy and forgiveness; they weren’t humble enough to admit the fact that they were lost sinners who needed redemption just as tax collectors, prostitutes and other outright sinners whom they despised. They considered themselves as healthy people who had no need of a doctor. Unlike those Pharisees, we may have accessed the door of forgiveness; nevertheless, we may not be able to access other doors in the Kingdom if we don’t maintain this attitude of poverty of spirit which is synonymous with humility.
Based on my own observation, I think this attitude is becoming more and more difficult to find among 21st-century believers. One reason, it seems to me, for this scarcity is that many haven’t come to realize the tremendous value and beauty of being poor in spirit. Many of us are like a novice or a child who doesn’t know the value of raw gold simply because it’s unattractive, being covered with dirt. No thanks to so-called prosperity gospel preachers who would have people believe that, “Blessed are the rich (in terms of money and material things), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” the exact opposite of what Jesus says in Luke 6:24, “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation”. To such covetous preachers, money and material riches seem to be the primary mark (evidence and measure) of God’s blessing and favor. To them “one’s life consists in the abundance of the things he possesses,” the direct opposite of what Jesus says in Luke 12:15. But they seem to forget, or rather they seem to be blinded by their love of money to, the fact that there are many unbelievers and atheists around the world who have abundance of material riches (some have legit riches, at that) and are also healthy physically. Does it mean that the blessing and favor of God are upon such unbelieving people? Far from it!
Some “men of God” (men of gold, actually, for gold/money is their god) even claim that God has made a “covenant of wealth” with them and has given them a mandate to raise millionaires or something like that. Just so you know, the only valid covenant that God has made with His people in this present age is the new covenant sealed (stamped) by the precious blood of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. (By the way, some folks seem to have a problem with addressing Jesus as the ONLY begotten Son of God. They seem not to be content with being regarded as God’s adopted children. As for me, I’m very content and pleased to be regarded not only as God’s adopted child but even as a slave of God, like Paul often addresses himself in his letters.) Every other covenant which God made with some individuals or groups—including Noah, Abraham, the nation of Israel, to mention but three, prior to the coming of Christ—pales and has become obsolete in the light of the new covenant, like the way cart has been rendered obsolete by the invention of motorcar (see Heb. 8:13). And so anyone who claims that God has made some “special covenant” with him/her, apart from the new covenant, is a conceited impostor and his claim is a hoax. Also the Church, the Body of Christ, has been given only one mandate: to raise disciples who are becoming increasingly conformed to the image and likeness of Christ by the employment of the gifts and ministries of every member of the Body. Any mandate other than that is make-believe.
Material wealth is not the primary mark of God’s blessing, as said earlier, neither is poverty the fundamental evidence of His curse. If poverty were the primary mark that a man is cursed, then Cain, the first man who was ever cursed expressly by God Himself, should have been the poorest of all men who have ever lived. But he was obviously not poor in terms of material things. In fact, it’s recorded that he went ahead, after he had been cursed by God, to build not just a house nor even an estate but a whole city (Gen 4:17). Likewise, if material riches and earthly comforts are the primary marks of God’s blessing (and favor) in this new covenant age, then we can conclude that Jesus and the early apostles were not really blessed (and were hated by God); since they were apparently poor, or more objectively they were not rich, and their lots were pretty hard. In spite of the abundant proofs in the Bible, especially the New Testament, some folks may still try to deny or argue the fact that Jesus and His apostles were not well-off materially. The arguments of such folks hold no water when subjected to scriptural and sound reasons. For instance, they may argue that if Jesus was not rich, how would He be able to take care of twelve grownup men with their families perhaps? How could He feed 5,000 men, besides women and children, on one occasion? Why would soldiers fight (cast lots) over His garments? Blah-blah-blah! Well, the fact that Jesus took care of the needs of those who followed Him doesn’t prove that He had millions of money in His account (treasury). It only testifies of God’s faithfulness and ability to supply all the needs of His people, according to His Word. Regarding the casting of lots by the soldiers over His garments, that’s obviously a fulfillment of what’s written concerning Him, just the way many other things pertaining to His life were fulfillment of prophecies.
Paul, in his second letter to the believers at Corinth, said: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Some may argue that it’s only on the cross that Jesus became poor. Yes! He became poor, very poor, when He was crucified almost naked on the cross. But that’s not the only instant when He became poor. When He humbled Himself to come into this sinful world in the likeness of sinful flesh, born of a woman into a poor family that apparently couldn’t afford a decent apartment at His birth (which made them opt for a stable) and couldn’t afford to offer a lamb at His presentation in the temple (and so they opted for a pair of little birds), He became poor. While growing up in the home of Joseph and Mary, He must have known some depths of poverty and struggle, especially after the death of Joseph when He had to become the breadwinner of the family, being the first Child (as tradition says). And when He began His public ministry, there were times when He was hungry and had no place even to lay His head. His death on the cross was simply the culmination of His experience of poverty.
The apostles of Jesus also had their own shares of poverty and affliction. Paul the apostle, describing their experience in his first letter to the believers at Corinth in contrast with the experience of the carnal Corinthians, writes:
You are already full! You are already rich! You have reigned as kings without us—and indeed I could wish you did reign, that we also might reign with you! For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored! To the present hour we both hunger and thirst and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the off scouring of all things until now. (1 Cor. 4:8-13)
Dear reader, is that not glaring enough that the apostles of Christ were not well-off materially and were undistinguished, unlike many self-styled apostles and celebrated preachers of today? You may also need to read 2 Corinthians 11:22-33, for more understanding of Paul’s hard experiences for the sake of Christ and the gospel. Some folks claim that Paul experienced all those difficulties because of his negative mentality or lack of faith. Some even say that poverty is a sin. Nothing could be more ludicrous than such baseless claims! I want to charge you, for the sake of your own precious soul, beware of such uninformed and unscrupulous folks hanging around nowadays, “who suppose that godliness (being a follower of God and Christ) is a means of (material) gain” (1 Tim 6:5).
Just to be clear and to avoid being misunderstood, I’m no more an advocate for material poverty than I am for material wealth and prosperity. There is no virtue in being poor, neither is there any virtue in being rich. We need to avoid the extreme and unscriptural viewpoint that it’s wrong for a believer to be well-off materially or that rich people won’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven, as much as we must avoid the other dangerous extreme viewpoint that material riches are a primary evidence/measure of God’s blessing/approval in this new covenant age. Those who hold the former extreme view seem to forget the fact that there were rich and influential saints both in Old and New Testament times, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Joseph of Arimathea, the Ethiopian eunuch, etcetera. And they are just as wrong as the adherence of the latter extreme view. You can be absolutely mistaken if you try to measure God’s blessing by material or earthly things, like the Laodicean believers who, because of their earthly riches, didn’t realize that they were “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev 3:17). So here is the point: What matters is not what we have, but what we do with what we have. It’s not about how much we have, but our attitude toward what we have, whether little or much.
If you are poor in spirit like Jesus, humble and completely dependent on God like a little baby is helplessly dependent on its mother, then you are blessed indeed. To such people unlimited access is granted to the true riches of God’s Kingdom such as salvation not only from the guilt of sin but also from the power of sin and the fear of death, divine wisdom to handle every situation of life, divine strength to overcome the Devil, divine revelation and understanding of God’s Word, anointing of the Spirit to serve God effectively, inner peace and joy even amidst trials and troubles of life, spiritual fruitfulness, and so on. These are some of the riches that made Christ become poor and die, so that we might have them. Those who have really tasted these true riches of Heaven would care less about earthly riches, honor, and everything highly esteemed among men. For they have learned to see things from God’s point of view. And from God’s viewpoint what the world highly esteems and calls monumental, isn’t just insignificant but actually detestable and disgusting (Luke 16:15). We will look more into that in part two.
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Beatitude 2: Mourning
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matt 5:4)
One unpopular title of Jesus found in the Bible is, "A Man of sorrows" (Isa 53:3). To mourn is to be sorrowful, with or without shedding of tears. Now one may ask: What was it that made Jesus sorrowful during His earthly life? What was it that grieved the heart of the true Giver of joy? Was it the fact that He was born into a poor family and perhaps had to struggle in His carpentry work so as to support the family of eight persons at least—Mary His mother, His four brothers and two sisters at least, and Himself—after Joseph the breadwinner of the family had passed on, according to tradition? Or was it because of the constant rejection, persecution and hostility which He suffered in the hands of those whom He came to save? NO! Such unpleasant, painful experiences might cause the natural man to be sorrowful, dejected or depressed, but they surely had no such effects on Jesus the Spiritual Man. Why? Because His joy was based on not the circumstances (situations) that surrounded His life, nor anything earthly or human, but His unbroken fellowship with the Heavenly Father.
It's an indisputable fact that Jesus had very deep concern, much deeper than we can ever have or imagine, for the physical and bodily needs of people. On one occasion He said to His disciples, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat” (Matt 15:32). And on several occasions we read that He, “being moved with compassion,” ministered healing to various sick people who encountered Him on His way, including two blind men by the roadside and a leper, and also ministered life to the dead son of the widow of Nain. But beyond all that, Jesus had a greater concern for the spiritual needs of people. It was this great, intense concern for the spiritual well-being of people that once moved Him to tears when He saw the city of Jerusalem during His “triumphal entry” (Luke 19:41-44).
Unarguably, the number one thing that made Jesus a “Man of sorrows” is SIN. Jesus had great sorrow and unending grief in His heart for fallen humanity that was under the bondage of sin and Satan. Though He knew no sin and in Him no sin was found, yet His heart grieved and bled constantly for the sins and spiritual miseries of people. “He had no tears for His own grief, but sweat drops of blood for mine,” a hymnist penned concerning our compassionate Savior. He bore our griefs and sorrows not just in the last hours of His life on the cross where He experienced the climax of sorrows, but throughout His lifetime. Concerning Him Isaiah the prophet stated that He was “acquainted (familiar) with bitterest grief” (Isa 53:3, NLT).
Though Jesus bore our griefs and sorrows, yet He was always rejoicing, as Paul also testified regarding his own experience (see 2 Cor. 6:10). You say, “How can that be? How can someone be sorrowful and joyful at the same time?” Let me also ask you this: How can the surface of an ocean be perturbed by whirlwind and yet the bottom of it is perfectly calm? Though His soul was often troubled with sorrow, yet at the same time Jesus had perpetual joy springing up from within Him (His spirit), because He was always in perfect tune with His Heavenly Father in whose presence fullness of joy and pleasures abound forever. And that’s also the blessed experience of His apostles and all those who have followed Him. This is one paradox of the Christian life.
If we have no sorrow for sin, at least for our own sins, I dare to say that our salvation is questionable. Or how can one claim to be saved from sin and still enjoy sin or feel comfortable living in sin? That’s an anomaly! When we have come to grasp the tremendous price that Jesus paid on the cross for our redemption, the intense agony and horror that He went through because of our sins—not only the shame, ridicule and pain of what the Jews and Roman soldiers did and said to Him from the point of His arrest until He died on the cross, but beyond all that, the unimaginable agony of being forsaken by His Father for long three hours on the cross—then we will never again take sin lightly. When our eyes are opened to behold divine love poured out at Calvary where the sinless Son of God drank the extremely bitter cup of God’s wrath—concerning which He vehemently prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that it would pass over Him, if possible—sin will become exceedingly sinful to us, and we will mourn and weep if we stumble or fall into sin.
We need to understand that there is a godly kind of sorrow which produces repentance leading to salvation such as the one Peter had after he had denied Jesus thrice; and there is a worldly kind of sorrow which produces death (spiritual death primarily) such as the type Judas had after he had betrayed Jesus (2 Cor. 7:10). As true children of God whose hearts have been enlightened and regenerated, and as disciples of Jesus who follow Him along the way of the cross, we ought to have the former and not the latter. It’s to the former that James refers when he writes:
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. (Jas 4:8-10)
The people of the world are usually sorrowful when they experience some pain or losses such as loss of loved ones, properties, etc. Some may express sorrow to the point of blaming, accusing or even cursing God for their losses and misfortunes, like Job’s wife suggested to him when he was hit by some terrible misfortunes (Job 2:9). But, as people of God, we ought not to be like that regardless of the pain or losses we may face. Though we may weep and shed tears for our pain and losses, like Jesus did at the tomb of Lazarus His dear friend, yet we ought not to blame or accuse God of wrongdoing; for He can never be wrong and He can never make a mistake. Like Jesus, we ought to give thanks even amidst our painful experiences, knowing that the glory of God can be manifested in us through those experiences if we trust Him (see John 11:4, 41-42). God is able to make even the most awful things that we may experience work for our highest good, to conform us to the image of His Son Jesus, if we trust and love Him, just as Paul affirms:
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Rom 8:28, 29)
At such trying moments when it feels as if we have lost everything, we need to remember that God is nearer to us more than ever before. Even if no one else is there for us, Jesus will always be there to comfort and console us, just as He was there for Mary and Martha after the death of their brother Lazarus. See the Message Bible paraphrase of our opening text:
You are blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. (Matt 5:4, MSG)
Moreover, it's important for us to note that godly sorrow isn’t something that man can produce on his own, but rather it’s a divine work of the Holy Spirit inside of man. One clearest proof that the Spirit of God has begun His work in us is that we will have godly sorrow, sorrow for sin which produces repentance leading to salvation and not damnation. And there is a wonderful promise for those who have not worldly sorrow but godly sorrow, that “they shall be comforted.” Such people will experience true comfort and strength that come from the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. The good news is not the fact that we sorrow or mourn, but that when we sorrow in a godly manner, we shall experience divine comfort.
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Beatitude 3: Meekness
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Matt 5:5)
The Greek word translated meek in the above passage is rendered gentle, lowly, humble, patient, etcetera, by various Bible translations, indicating that these words are synonymous, even though they may not always have exactly the same meaning. I will be using these words interchangeably in this subsection and will place more emphasis on the word humble, along with their corresponding nouns. I’ve observed that humility is one very important virtue which the Bible emphasizes a lot. In the first beatitude, we saw that poverty of spirit is synonymous with humility. And in the second beatitude, you might have noticed that mourning (sorrowing) in a godly way is closely related to humbling oneself before God. “The three secrets of the Christian life are Humility, Humility and Humility,” says a dear preacher. How true!
One has also described humility as “the mother of all graces.” Without humility it’s difficult, if not impossible, to have faith, love, and other essential graces. For instance, how can I have genuine faith in God, if I’m proud and self-confident? In fact, Jesus makes it plain that it’s easier for a camel to go through the needle’s eye than for a proud, self-confident man—whose confidence (and trust) is in his riches or possessions—to enter God’s Kingdom (Mark 10:24-25). Or how can I have true love and concern for others, if I’m proud and egocentric, if my thoughts and my whole life revolve around me and mine? These words of J.C. Ryle, “Pride is the oldest and most common of sins; humility is the rarest and most beautiful of graces,” hold true even today. Thus, genuine faith and love have also become rare to come by. Sometimes we may imagine that we are very humble and gentle, especially when we try to compare ourselves with others. This is one unwise thing that people do, including believers: “measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves,” as Paul writes (2 Cor. 10:12). “My mates/colleagues/friends do (or have) this and that,” or “They don’t do (or have) this and that,” some say. Such behavior is one clear symptom of carnality and spiritual immaturity. If we must compare ourselves with anyone, it should be with Jesus alone who is the perfect Standard of God. And if we do that with all sincerity, we will realize how proud and harsh we are; how far we are from attaining “the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:1).
There are various ideas that people have concerning humility. Some think of humility as being soft-spoken and carrying oneself in a gentle manner. All that is good, but true humility is way beyond all that. Some others think of humility as having low thoughts about oneself, or low self-esteem, saying stuff such as “I’m just a wretch!” or “I’m not good enough!” or the like. Those who think like that haven’t really understood the true meaning of humility, as we see in Jesus. They are yet to understand that, “Humility is not thinking less of oneself, but thinking of oneself less,” as one has rightly said. In Matthew 11:29, Jesus says:
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
In other words, if we want to learn the true meaning of gentleness, lowliness and humility, we must come under the yoke of Jesus and learn from Him. We must look to Him, as Hebrews 12:2 says. The way we learn Christian virtues is by looking unto Jesus, not by looking into the English dictionary. For instance, many Christians get offended when people speak ill of them or behave in a bad way toward them. We are so disturbed and may even fight when our names are dragged in the mud, but we have little or no concern that the precious Name of Christ is dishonored among us and around us. Now consider how it was with Jesus whom we profess to love and follow. Was He ever offended (or embittered) when people called Him names such as glutton, winebibber, deceiver, the prince of demons, and so on? Certainly not! When people slapped Him, spat on Him, whipped Him, made fun of Him, and crucified Him, He prayed that the Father would forgive them because they didn’t realize the grave consequences of what they were doing. One could do anything to the Son of Man, and He would forbear and forgive. However, when Jesus saw His Father's Name being dishonored around Him, then He burned with holy anger. On one occasion when He saw religious people buying and selling inside the temple of God, turning His Father's house into a business center and a den of thieves, He made a whip and drove them all out, overturning the tables of money changers and the seats of dove sellers. On another occasion He was angry and grieved because of the hardheartedness of some self-righteous folks toward the man with a withered hand whom He healed on the Sabbath.
There we see what the meekness and humility of Christ entail. It’s not just about speaking and acting in a soft and nice manner—though all that is good and commendable—but, beyond all that, it’s about total submission to God and His will. Meekness and submissiveness are inseparable, as Peter also explains in his first letter to the believers, regarding the attitude of Christian women to their husbands (1 Pet 3:1-6). A meek and humble man (or woman) is one who is totally submissive and obedient to God. He has lost his will in God’s, so to speak. His motto is, “Your will, O Lord, not mine be done always.” He has assumed the position of nothingness before God. He has become nothing so that God can be everything. And when a person assumes such a position, here are some fruits that his life will bear:
- He will be patient with others and quick to forgive them; he won’t be touchy or easily provoked (offended) by what people say or do to him, and by what they fail to say or do to him.
- He will be gentle and polite toward others but, then again, unbending in his stand for the revealed truths of God even if that makes him come across as being proud or rude.
- He will be quick to apologize not only when he is wrong, but even at times when he seems to be right for the sake of peace, rather than trying to justify himself before God and people.
- He will be slow to criticize but quick to appreciate others; he won’t take for granted even the least of helps received from God and people.
- He will be ready to carry out any divine instruction given to him without entertaining fear or favoritism; he won’t allow the fear of being misunderstood or the desire for acceptance to hinder him from obeying God.
- He will be firm in his convictions but, at the same time, teachable and open to learn from others; he won’t act as if he knows it all.
- He will take responsibilities for his actions instead of trying to pass the buck, like Adam and Eve did after they had disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden.
- He won’t be swayed by people’s praise or blame, approval or disapproval, good opinions or bad opinions; for his supreme goal is to please God and glorify Him alone.
- He will be willing to take the lowest position in order to serve others, like Jesus did when He washed the feet of His disciples, and content with his God-appointed estate whether high or low.
- He won’t seek to project himself before others or draw undue attention to himself, but rather he will seek to exalt the Name of Christ so that others may be drawn to Him alone.
- He will seek not only his own interests, but also the interests of others, even at the expense of his if need be.
- He will be willing to mingle and get along with everyone regardless of their status, be it social, financial, educational, cultural, or any other; for he sees all as God’s precious creatures.
This was the place that Jesus always took in the presence of the Father, the place of nothingness. That’s why He could do anything that the Father wanted Him to do, whether or not the thing was impressive, and without being overly mindful of what others might think or speak of Him. He sought to please and glorify God alone, and thus the glory of God was perfectly revealed in Him.
Let’s therefore earnestly seek to follow the footsteps of meek and lowly Jesus, walking in the path of meekness and humility that He has shown us, that we may have boldness to face Him in the day of judgment (1 John 4:17). Only those who follow Him along the path of meekness, though despised by the world and labeled as fools, will inherit the earth and reign with the King of kings when “the kingdom of this world has (finally) become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ” (Rev 11:15). Let me also add that being meek (humble and gentle) isn’t synonymous with being stupid (a fool or a doormat), as we shall further discuss in part two.
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Beatitude 4: Hunger and Thirst
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. (Matt 5:6)
Hunger for food and thirst for water are natural desires that God has given all human beings as well as animals. No one needs to teach a baby to be hungry for food or thirsty for water. It’s natural and normal for babies to be hungry and thirsty. And they usually express these natural desires by crying, especially before they learn to speak. We all know how essential food and water are to the human body. In fact, studies reveal that man may survive for a couple of weeks without food, but without water he can’t make it past a few days unless through supernatural intervention. This is one major reason why people work and labor: in order to have something to eat and drink, and hence stay alive and healthy.
What food is to the human body, so also is righteousness to the human soul. Just as we have various types of food, some of which have little or no nutritional value and may even have devastating effects on one’s health, so also there are various kinds of righteousness. One is self-righteousness, a kind of righteousness produced by self-effort based on individual standards; the Bible describes this kind of righteousness as nothing but a filthy piece of rag (Isa 64:6). Another is the righteousness of the law which, like self-righteousness, is also produced by self-effort based on not individual standards but the standards of God’s law. The former is like bad food (poison) which can cause sickness and even death if one keeps feeding on it; the latter is like junk food with little or no nutritional value, though it may seem quite tasty in one’s mouth. Both are definitely not the perfect will of God for man.
The kind of righteousness that we are to hunger and thirst for is the righteousness of God accessed by faith in Christ (Phi 3:9). And this righteousness isn’t just a thing but a Person, Christ Himself, “who became for us wisdom from God and righteousness…” (1 Cor. 1:30). See the words of Jesus to the multitude who sought Him after He had fed them with five loaves of bread and two small fish:
Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him… This is the work of God, that you believe in Him Whom He sent… Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world… I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. (John 6:26-35)
The world, as well as Christendom, is full of hungry and thirsty people who seek God not because they love Him or want to be with Him, but because they want to use Him (as it were) to satisfy their natural and/or carnal desires—their desires for food, clothing, housing, riches, comforts, honor, position, power, fame and other things that can’t really satisfy the human soul and fill the vacuum therein. Many seek to find satisfaction in eating, drinking, hard drugs, sex, accumulation of wealth, political power, social status, religious status, and what have you, but, to their disappointment, they find that all these things couldn’t give them deep, lasting satisfaction. They still feel a void (emptiness) inside of them, in spite of their indulgence in these mundane things. You don’t have to experiment these things, like King Solomon did, before coming to the realization: “ALL (outside of Christ) is vanity and grasping for the wind” (Eccl. 2:11). “There is a God-shaped vacuum in every man which nothing but God Himself can fill,” Isaac Newton has rightly said.
Dear reader, if you are still hungry or thirsty for earthly things and/or sinful pleasures, what you need isn’t more of these stuffs, but to come to the Father’s table and feed on the Bread of Life. Like the prodigal son, if you would return home and feed at the Father’s table, you would never again desire to fill your stomach with swine’s pods. If you believe and entrust yourself to God completely, He will give you a new heart and a new spirit, such a heart with new desires and affections: a burning desire for Christ (the Bread of Life), a consuming passion for the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, an unrelenting zeal for the things of the Spirit, and so on. And in Him you will find Authentic and Abiding (AA) satisfaction, NOT a Sham and Short-lived (SS) kind of satisfaction that the world gives. You can (and will) have the “fountain (well) of water,” the living water, inside of you that can satisfy your thirst completely and also overflow like a river to satisfy the thirst of those around you, if you come in sincere faith to the Lord Jesus today. Hear the beautiful words of Jesus to the Samaritan woman whom He encountered at Jacob’s well:
Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:13-14)
On another occasion, which happened to be the last day of the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus stood and cried out:
If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. (John 7:37-38)
In the next verse we are told that the outcry of Jesus was concerning the Holy Spirit whom the believers were yet to receive then, “because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39). But thanks be to God that Jesus has now been glorified, having died and risen from the dead and ascended to Heaven. Now the Holy Spirit, who was first poured out on the Day of Pentecost, has come to indwell the heart of every believer in Christ, thereby giving them real, deep and lasting satisfaction, such satisfaction that makes them lose appetite for the fleeting things of this world. H.H. Lemmel aptly expresses this reality in these lines of her lovely hymn:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
This is the glorious gospel of salvation of which the Old Testament prophets and saints made diligent inquiries, and into which even the holy angels desire to look (1 Pet 1:10-12). I can imagine this “cloud of witnesses” (saints and angels) looking down with surprise and pity when they see believers laboring for and even fighting over the perishable “toys” of this world, like little children do, rather than seeking the fullness of the Holy Spirit who gives real and eternal satisfaction. The gospel which offers the priceless gift of the Holy Spirit can be our blessed, practical experience, and not just some theory in the head, if we meet the condition. The condition, as clearly stated in the earlier passage (John 7:37-38), is two-in-one: thirst and faith.
One major reason why many of us lack a satisfying Christian life, described as “abundant life” in John 10:10, is our lack of the fullness of the Holy Spirit. And we lack the fullness of the Spirit of Christ because we are not really thirsty for Him—because we are too full of self, we are self-sufficient and self-satisfied. We carry on in life (and in ministry) as though we could survive on our own and make it without the presence and power of God’s Spirit. Or perhaps we are satisfied with some past experiences we’ve had. Though we may be quick to dismiss that, yet our lifestyle betrays us. Let me ask: How often do you seek God for the power and anointing of His Spirit, not only in public or group prayers but also in private prayers? How earnest do you cry out to God for power to be an effective witness for Christ? How often do you look up to the Lord for the direction and guidance of His Spirit? That’s the test of how much you value the Holy Spirit and how thirsty you are for Him.
Both in and outside the Bible, testimonies abound of ordinary men whose lives and ministries were changed radically, through the mighty workings of the Holy Spirit. I love the way Samuel the prophet described what would happen to Saul after the Spirit of God had come upon him. He said, “You will be changed into a different person” (1 Sam 10:6, NLT). That’s one of the shortest and most accurate descriptions of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, both in Old Testament and New Testament eras. In Old Testament times the Spirit could only come upon few people temporarily and change them on the outside, because back then “Jesus was not yet glorified,” as we saw earlier. Then when the Spirit came upon the prophets, judges and kings, they were endued with power to prophesy, manifest supernatural gifts, fight physical battles and do earthly exploits; but their sinful, corrupt nature couldn’t be dealt with and so they couldn’t draw near to fellowship with God in the Most Holy Place (more on this later). We see that in Gideon, Samson, Samuel, David, to mention but four. However, in this new covenant age, God has promised not only to pour out His Spirit upon all flesh so as to enable them to prophesy, see visions, etcetera, but beyond that, He has sent His Spirit to reside permanently inside the believers’ hearts and enable them to bear fruits of love, joy, peace, etc., as we see in the early Christians.
Now we can be endued with power from above to be effective witnesses of the Lord Jesus, first by our lives and also by our words. Peter is one classical example of this reality. You may be familiar with the story of what he did on the night that Jesus was arrested: how he denied Jesus three times (even before a girl), apparently for fear of what the Jews might do to him if he confessed Jesus before them. But what a change happened to him some days later, on the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on him and the other disciples who were waiting and praying at the upper room in Jerusalem! On that day he testified so boldly and powerfully about Jesus that 3,000 souls (approximately) were convicted, converted, baptized and added to the church. And when he (along with John) was arrested for preaching Christ, after the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, he spoke so boldly about Jesus before the Sanhedrin that the council members (the rulers and elders of Israel) could see their boldness and acknowledged that they had been with Jesus. All their threats couldn’t stop him and the other apostles from preaching Christ and speaking the Word of God. This can be our experience too. But for us to enjoy this awesome, new-covenant privilege, we’ve got to thirst and trust in God.
Friend, what are you thirsty for: Christ or Mammon? God or the world? If you are really thirsty for Christ—if you have the kind of thirst similar to that of a man who has been wandering without water in the desert for some days—in other words, if you are desperate for Christ, you can’t but go to Him to drink of His Spirit (the Living Water). And if you go to Him in faith—if you turn your eyes upon Jesus as that hymn says, if you look unto Jesus according to the word of exhortation in that Hebrews passage which comes immediately after that epic chapter on faith (Heb. 12:2)—He will by no means cast you out, as He Himself has assured us (John 6:37). But rather He will fill you continuously until your “cup of water” becomes “a well of water,” and your “well of water” becomes “a river of water” and “many rivers of living water.” Even if you lack thirst for God, you can humbly ask Him for it. And be assured that He will answer you and grant you a deep thirst for Himself, that you may be filled with His Spirit and power. He is a God who satisfies the thirsty soul and fills the hungry with good things.
Let me wrap up this subsection with these lovely words of Andrew Murray:
Just as water ever seeks and fills the lowest place, so the moment God finds you abased and empty, His glory and power flow in.
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Beatitude 5: Mercifulness
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. (Matt 5:7)
Being merciful involves having a forgiving attitude. One of the commonest sins found among professing Christians, I think, is an unforgiving and bitter attitude. Some folks show their resentment and bitterness toward others, by their actions or words or body language. While some others try to conceal their resentment and bitterness, pretending that “everything is okay.” The latter category is more dangerous than the former. However, some Christians do have the desire to be merciful and to forgive those who have hurt them, but they seem to lack the ability to do so; to them forgiveness is such a great struggle, having been deeply hurt by people. Well, the disciples of Jesus also seemed to have the same struggle when Jesus was still with them physically. I suppose that’s what prompted Peter to ask Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (Matt 18:21). And the Lord said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (vs. 22). This implies that we ought to show mercy and forgive others completely and constantly (24/7), just the way God has done to us.
Then Jesus spoke the parable of a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. And one was brought to him who owed him 10,000 talents (equivalent to several millions of dollars in today’s currency). So enormous was the debt that the servant, along with his family and all that he had, needed to be sold for payment to be made. But then he fell on his face and pleaded with the king. And the king, being moved with compassion, released him and forgave him the whole debt. How delighted that servant must have felt that moment! When the servant went out, he saw his fellow servant who owed him 100 denarii (equivalent to a few hundreds of dollars, a very little percentage of his own debt). But what did he do? He grabbed his debtor by the throat and demanded instant payment. Though his fellow servant also fell down and pleaded with him, like he did before the king, yet he wouldn't show any pity. But rather he had him arrested and thrown into prison till he should pay up the debt. The other servants were very grieved when they saw the merciless attitude of that servant toward his fellow. And the issue was reported to their master the king. When the king heard, he was furious and summoned the servant, and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all your debt because you begged me. Shouldn’t you also have shown mercy to your fellow servant, just as I had shown mercy to you?” The servant became dumb in the presence of the king. And the king handed him over to the torturers until he should pay up all his debt (Matt 18:23-34). Then Jesus wrapped up the parable with this:
So My Heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses. (Matt 18:35)
Friend, do you believe that God the Father can (and will) “unforgive” a person whom He had previously forgiven, if that person refuses to forgive anyone who offends him/her, especially if the offender acknowledge their wrong? That’s absolutely true, according to the above parable of Jesus, whether or not you believe it. And God is righteous and just to do so, though our carnal minds may think otherwise. Even if you have been a believer, a pastor, an elder or whatever else for many years, it makes no difference. God won’t forgive you, if you are not willing to forgive those who wrong you. And if you should die in the state of unforgiveness, your destination is no other place than Hell, since no unforgiven sinner can enter Heaven. Besides, studies have shown that bitterness and resentment can cause headache, hypertension, sleeplessness, and some other health problems. So why tolerate such an unhealthy, self-torturing attitude in your life?
It’s also important for us to note that forgiving those who offend us doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t or won’t feel the pain of the wrong done to us. Forgiveness is a deliberate choice to release the offender from the prison of our heart and not hold their wrong against them, irrespective of our feelings. It doesn’t automatically restore (or bring about) cordial relationship with the offender, especially if the offender isn’t willing to acknowledge his/her fault and repent. It takes time, humility, sincerity, openness, trust, cooperation, etc., to build a healthy relationship. But forgiveness can be done in a moment. And it does make the forgiver at peace with God, with himself/herself, and with the offender. It has been rightly said that forgiveness is like you releasing someone from the prison only to find out that you yourself have been the prisoner all along. In addition, if you have truly forgiven someone, you will wish them well and not otherwise. You won’t be unhappy or disturbed if you hear that something good happens to them. Neither will you be happy or rejoice if you hear that something bad happens to them. And you won’t go around spreading tale of the wrong they did to you, in order to present them in the bad light or gain the sympathy of others or something like that. For “love (and mercy) covers a multitude of sins [forgives and disregards the offenses of others]” (1 Pet 4:8, AMP). If you truly love someone, you will “forgive and forget” (let go and cover up as much as possible) the wrong that they did to you. You will be more mindful of their good sides than their bad sides.
If we really seek to partake more and more of the Divine nature, such a nature that takes pleasure in showing mercy and forgiving offenders, forgiveness won’t be such an uphill/impossible task for us regardless of the gravity of the offense. Though some offenses may be so grave (great) that forgiveness and reconciliation may seem impossible, humanly speaking, yet such offenses become pale when compared with our offenses and sins against God. Like the disciples after the resurrection of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we also can be full of love and mercy even toward those who hate us, persecute us or try to harm us. Stephen is one classical example. When the Jews became mad with him because of his message, grabbed him, cast him out of the city and were stoning him, he didn’t lay curses on them; but rather he prayed that the Lord would forgive them and not hold their sin against them.
Furthermore, being merciful also involves being kind and generous toward the poor and the needy, the oppressed and the destitute. Just as James says:
Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. (Jas 1:27)
There we see that mercy (generosity toward the needy) and holiness (keeping oneself pure) go hand in hand. Being generous and kind, even to the unlovable and the unkind, is one of the clearest proofs of being filled with the Holy Spirit. When Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit, we are told that He “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38). If we profess to be believers in Christ and are not willing to do good and help others in need, our profession is nothing but a sham and our Christian faith is worth less than zero. See what James further writes:
Dear brothers and sisters, what’s the use of saying you have faith if you don’t prove it by your actions? That kind of faith can’t save anyone. Suppose you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, and you say, “Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, it isn’t enough just to have faith. Faith that doesn’t show itself by good deeds is no faith at all—it is dead and useless. (Jas 2:14-17, NLT)
So let’s learn to open our eyes to see the needs of those around us and be prompt to lend them a helping hand, without robbing them of their dignity and even without them having to ask us, inasmuch as it’s within our capacity to help them. Remember that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). We shouldn’t be sluggish or reluctant in helping others, neither should we say, “Well, I’m not the only one! Someone else will help them.” But rather we are to be eager to help those who are in need, as though if we don’t help, no one else would. We are to be “zealous for good works” and “learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs,” as Paul states in his letter to Titus, explaining why Christ gave Himself for us (Tit 2:14; 3:14). Let’s not allow FEAR (which often is “False Evidence Appearing Real,” as it’s been rightly said), prejudice, ingratitude on the part of some people, or any such thing, to hinder us from showing mercy and reaching out to those who are really in need. By the help of God’s Spirit in us and by employing our common sense, we can know when, where, to whom, and how to reach out and give. Don’t give to those who would waste your money/resources (God’s resources, actually). Nor use your money to sponsor the lavish lifestyle of some “men of God” in the name of “sowing into a higher anointing” or for any such misguided reasons. Such anointing is definitely not of God, for the anointing of God is NOT FOR SALE. You know what terrifying word Simon the sorcerer—who thought the gift/anointing of God could be bought with money—got from God through the mouth of His servant, Peter, for his wicked ideology (see Acts 8:18-24). Our zeal for God and for good works must be well guided by God’s Spirit and His Word. Otherwise it will do more harm than good not only to us but also to others, like a speeding vehicle without brakes.
Remember that every good deed which a person does to others, especially to members of God’s household (that is, Christians), won’t go unrewarded, be it as little as giving a cup of water or the like (Gal 6:9-10; Matt 10:42). Both here and hereafter, the merciful, those who show mercy and do good to others, will surely be blessed and rewarded by God; they will definitely obtain mercy and favor both in the sight of God and people.“The generous soul will be made rich, and he who waters will also be watered himself,” says the Holy Scripture (Pro 11:25). If you commit yourself to sharing the burden of others and helping them according to your ability, God will also commit Himself to bearing your own burden and supplying all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus, just as Paul wrote to the Philippians whom he commended for their excellence in this noble act of giving and helping others (Phi 4:15-19).
Can you imagine what Abraham and Lot especially would have missed (and lost) if they had not been kind and hospitable to those angels whom they thought were strangers? Because of his kindness and hospitability to those “strangers,” Lot saved his life with his family when the judgment and wrath of God was poured out upon Sodom and Gomorrah. Some of us may never realize, until the Last Day, what we have missed because of our wrong attitude toward strangers and outsiders. We are to show love and kindness not only to our fellow believers and members of our communities, but also to strangers and outsiders (see Heb. 13:1-3). I’m always amazed whenever I think about God’s provident care in the life and ministry of Jesus, the most merciful and generous Person that has ever lived, such as the time when His need to pay temple tax was met through the mouth of a fish. Like Jesus and the fathers of old, if we also choose to be kind and generous to others and not allow fear or prejudice or any such thing to hinder us, we will experience the provident care and kindness of God in our own time of need so that we won’t have to borrow let alone beg (Psa. 37:25-26; Pro 19:17). Even if we have to borrow, God will help us to pay back as at when due; for His will is, “Owe no one anything except to love one another…” (Rom 13:8).
Hear these beautiful words of King Jesus to the merciful that He describes as “the sheep on His right hand” when He returns:
Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me… Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me. (Matt 25:34-40)
There we see that being merciful and generous is not only about giving money and material things, but also about giving time and attention to those in need—as in visiting the sick and those in prison. Our duty, as members of God’s family, is to be there (available) for other members (particularly “the least,” the needy and the poor, those whom we tend to despise/neglect/snub, like James points out in his letter to the believers, see James 2:1-7) and reach out to one another in every possible, practical way. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say anything about building 100,000-capacity cathedral or something like that for Him. Why? Because His interest is in people and not in things. Unfortunately, the reverse seems to be the case for modern-day church leaders who are in the rat race of building mega cathedrals and executing humongous, self-aggrandizing projects (which will all pass away soon), but have little or no interest in building up people and reaching out to their needs (like the early church did, see Acts 2:44-47; 4:32-37). Mind you, this is but one of the many errors of today’s church. What a need for the church to repent and return to the good path in which Jesus and the first church walked! I’m sure you want to hear those beautiful words of Jesus in the above passage and not what’s said to “the goats on the left,”
Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me… Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me. (Matt 25:41-45)
The choice is yours, dear friend. I hope you make the right choice today, if you haven’t already. I pray you follow the noble example of the early apostles who loved people and used things, and were more eager to give than to take from people, unlike today’s church leaders who do otherwise. Learn to continually show mercy and do good to all people, especially to your fellow Christians (members of God’s family and brethren of Jesus) whether or not they belong to your denomination, church or group. Follow the footsteps of Jesus who went about doing good to people and meeting their needs (both spiritual and physical needs) wherever He found them, not minding whether or not they belonged to His group (or clique, so to speak). Seek to “be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share (whatever you have), storing up for [yourself] a good foundation for the time to come, that [you] may lay hold on eternal life,” as Paul writes to Timothy (1 Tim 6:18-19).
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Beatitude 6: Purity of Heart
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matt 5:8)
It’s so interesting and challenging to see what God Himself had to say about His servant Moses, a type of Christ, at a time when his siblings (Miriam and Aaron) criticized him because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married. They said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?” (Num 12:1, 2). I suppose they felt that they were “somebodies” and were better qualified than Moses to lead the people of Israel. Apparently the humble man, Moses, kept quiet and didn’t respond to their criticism; he must have committed the matter into God’s hand (vs. 3). “Silence is often the most eloquent answer to our critics,” a wise man has said. That’s the kind of attitude we all need to cultivate, so that we no longer seek to “prove a point” or justify ourselves before people. Now see God’s response to Aaron and Miriam, after He had summoned the three of them to the tabernacle of meeting:
Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream. Not so with My servant Moses; he is faithful in all My house. I speak with him face to face, even plainly, and not in dark sayings; and he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moses? (Num. 12:6-8)
God not only defended Moses before his critics, but also honored him. This is true to God’s nature: to honor those who honor Him (1 Sam 2:30). This is the only kind of medal worth seeking, worth living and dying for: the honor and approval of God. There are some “believers” who, like Miriam and Aaron, think that they are “somebodies” just because of their abilities to dream, see visions, hear voices, or connect with the spiritual realm in some ways. Some have even succeeded in deceiving people by telling fairy tales of the things that they purportedly saw or heard, things which are found to be alien and invalid when scrutinized in the light of Scripture. For instance, some may give reports of their trips to Heaven and/or Hell, reports that hold no water when weighed against scriptures, and thus they deceive (mislead) people. There is no need for me to go into all the details. I would only charge you to be careful and to scrutinize everything you see or hear in the light of God’s Word, for not all supernatural experiences are from God. Satan is an expert at counterfeiting the things of God. Just to be clear, God still reveals Himself to people and communicate with them through visions and dreams and audible voices. And we ought to be thankful for such experiences. Nevertheless, there is a greater, more excellent means of communication between God and man, that is, face to face communication, as revealed in the earlier passage.
In Old Testament times none except Moses, as far as we know, was given this special honor of speaking with God face to face, as friend with friend (Deut. 34:10). Why? Because back then the way into “the Most Holy Place,” aka “the Holiest of All” and “the Holy of Holies, ”was not yet opened to man (Heb. 9:8). The writer of the book of Hebrews—by the way some believe it’s Paul, I don’t think so though, one reason being that Paul usually begins his letter with a kind of greeting from him to the recipient of the letter—draws a number of analogies between the old and the new covenant. In chapter one he explains that God spoke primarily through the prophets in Old Testament times; but now, in this new covenant age described as the last days, He speaks to us primarily through His Son Jesus (Heb. 1:1-2). In latter chapters he also analyzes the differences between old-covenant priesthood and new-covenant priesthood. But my major concern is what he, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writes in chapter nine: where he compares and contrasts the old-covenant tabernacle with the new-covenant one.
We know that the old-covenant tabernacle, which God instructed Moses to build in the wilderness according to the pattern that he was shown on Mount Sinai, has three parts. First is the Outer Court which is an open place, opened to all the Israelites, and where the altar of burnt offering and the bronze laver are found. Second is the Holy Place, aka the Sanctuary, which is opened to only one tribe of Israel (the Levites) to perform their religious services, and in which are the lampstand, the table, etc. Third is the Most Holy Place, aka the Holiest of All, which is opened to the high priest alone, and in this place are the Ark of the Covenant, the mercy seat, etc. All these things are symbols of new-covenant realities which the writer of the book of Hebrews seems hesitant to explain in detail, apparently because of the dullness of his Jewish audience to spiritual things and profound truths. I earnestly pray that the Holy Spirit would help us to grasp these spiritual realities, as we humble our hearts before God and open our minds to Him.
The point I want to draw out from that ninth chapter of the book of Hebrews is that the way into the Most Holy Place, the dwelling place of the God of glory, was not yet opened to man while that physical, earthly tabernacle was still standing. No Israelite could go into this part of the tabernacle, except the high priest once a year—on the tenth day of the seventh month of the Jewish calendar, which is called the Day of Atonement—with the blood of animals sacrificed for his own sins and the people’s. But thanks be to God, the way into the Most Holy—not of that earthly tabernacle which was only a shadow and has now become obsolete, but of the heavenly tabernacle itself, the real dwelling place of God—has been opened up for us through the sacrificial death of Jesus (the Lamb of God) on the cross of Calvary. This is one spiritual implication of the rending of that thick veil of the temple (a larger, immobile version of the tabernacle), the veil which separated the holy place from the Most Holy, at the death of Jesus. Now every believer in Christ has a free, unlimited and timeless access to God through the precious blood of His Son shed on the cross. See what the Holy Scripture says:
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest (the Most Holy) by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb. 10:19-22)
In the above passage we are told to “draw near with a true heart.” In other words, our hearts must be true (sincere, honest, with no guile), if we are to draw near (approach, come) to the throne of God for anything. No untruthful, unjust or dishonest person can abide in God’s tabernacle or dwell in His holy presence, as the psalmist also declares (Psa. 15:1-5). But the one who is utterly truthful, sincere and honest, will sooner or later find his way to God—who not only dwells in unapproachable light, but also is Light personified—as Jesus Himself affirms in John 3:21, “But he who does the truth comes to (God) the light.” One major reason why many are yet to experience the salvation in Christ is because of their untruthfulness and insincerity. They are not willing to be truthful with their sins; they are not ready to confess (acknowledge, own up to) their sins and shortcomings before God. They are like the Pharisees of old who thought that they were perfectly healthy and had no need of a doctor.
If we don’t have a true heart, there is no way we can advance to having a pure heart, a heart that is totally consecrated to (set apart for) God. And if our hearts are not pure, how then shall we “see God”? For only the pure in heart are promised the blessed experience of seeing God. Now what does it mean to see God? Is it looking literally at the very Person of God, or seeing Him face to face the way we see people and things? Not necessarily! As a matter of fact, no one on earth has the capacity to do that, not even Moses when he pleaded earnestly to see God. The best Moses saw was “the form of God,” that is, a mere picture that gave him a faint idea of the Person of God. We can never see God literally until that glorious day when we put off our mortal, corruptible bodies. In John’s Gospel we are told explicitly:
No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared (revealed) Him. (John 1:18)
This is the purpose with which Jesus came to the earth: to declare (reveal, make known) the Father to us. Now Jesus has made it possible for every believer to know God personally and intimately, as though He were present here with us physically, as if we were beholding Him face to face, and without the need for any intermediary in the person of Mary or some angel or prophet. Through the inner eyes of faith and with unveiled hearts, we can now behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3:18; 4:6). But first our hearts must be circumcised by the sword of the Spirit and then washed and treated with the water and blood that gushed from the pierced body of the Savior on the cross. Having done that, we can now draw near with full assurance of faith, with complete confidence in God that He loves us and has accepted us as much as He did Jesus. That doesn’t imply that we have now become sinlessly perfect like Jesus, but it’s simply a testimony of our perfect acceptance and of a perfect conscience before God. As we humble ourselves before God and faithfully walk the way of the cross—also called “the new and living way” which Jesus has shown us by His own life and teachings (Heb. 10:20)—we will find some impurities (defilements) in us from which we must cleanse ourselves, if we are to maintain a pure heart and a perfect conscience and thus lay hold of the blessed promises of God. And so, as the Spirit gives us light, let’s cleanse ourselves from all defilements both of the flesh (outward sins) and of the spirit (inward sins), in pursuit of perfect holiness, as Paul exhorts us in his second epistle to the Corinthians.
Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (2 Cor. 7:1)
Beloved, one major sin from which we must cleanse (purify) ourselves is “double-mindedness,” as James reveals (Jas 4:8). To be double-minded, based on the context of James 4, is to have a mindset (attitude) that seeks friendship with both God and the world, that wants to share devotion between Christ and mammon at the same time (more on this in part two). We have to get rid of such an unwholesome attitude and cleanse ourselves of everything that competes for the place of God in our lives, if our inner eyes are to see the glory of God. This is what it means to “love the LORD your God with all your heart (spirit), with all your soul (mind and emotion), with all your mind (seat of intellect), and with all your strength (bodily energy),” as we are commanded (Mark 12:30).
Let’s therefore reject this passing world with all its ungodly ways and fashions. And gladly embrace the saving cross of Christ with its suffering and shame. Like Moses, let’s also look beyond “the reproach of Christ” to the exceedingly great reward, the unspeakable joy of face-to-face fellowship with the Godhead in the Most Holy; in which God communes with us plainly, and not in riddles or dark sayings, through the inaudible voice, nudges, and promptings of His Spirit inside our hearts (Heb. 11:26). This is the purpose with which the Holy Spirit has been given to us: that we may have a personal, intimate and vital communion (fellowship) with God; and that we may know (comprehend) the deep things of God which even Moses and the best of Old Testament saints couldn’t know, just as our Lord Jesus has promised (John 16:12, 13, etc.). Now Christ has made it possible for every believer to go to the Father directly and know His perfect will for him. You don’t need any prophet or papa or anyone else to tell you what to do, what career to choose, whom to marry, or what decision to make concerning every matter of life. “None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” is what God has promised in this new-covenant dispensation (Heb 8:11). And so don’t let anyone rob you of this great privilege of knowing your Heavenly Father directly. You may need others to teach or explain God’s Word to you, to counsel and admonish you, but don’t you let them take the exclusive place of the Holy Spirit in your life. Learn to listen to (and discern) His voice and obey His instructions.
O, how blessed indeed are the pure in heart, for they alone may ascend into the hill of the Lord and stand in His holy place, as David proclaims! (Psa. 24:3-4). Only such people can see the hand of the Almighty in every situation of life, and so they have no complaint against anyone. “You are blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world” (Matt 5:8, MSG). Whether in prosperity or adversity, in wellness or sickness, in plenty or scarcity, in consolation or tribulation, you can learn to “rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS” and “give thanks in EVERYTHING” (Phi 4:4; 1 Thess. 5:18); if you truly believe and know that “ALL THINGS work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). If indeed your heart is pure, your life will be marked with prayer, thanksgiving and praise, whatever your situation may be, as in the case of Moses, rather than murmuring and complaining, as in the case of the children of Israel in the wilderness. And then the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will fill your heart and mind (Phi 4:6-7).
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Beatitude 7: Peacemaking
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Matt 5:9)
One primary mark of a true son (or daughter) of the Most High is that he makes peace wherever he finds himself. He seeks to promote peace, cooperation and unity among people, instead of strife, competition and division. He also brings peace and the atmosphere of Heaven into a home or a church or anywhere else he goes, just as salt brings taste and sweetness into food. It’s the children of the Devil that make trouble and bring the atmosphere of Hell wherever they go, just as their father does. In the book of Acts chapter eight we read of a time when a great wave of persecution scattered all the believers, except the apostles, throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. This happened after the martyrdom of Stephen, one of the seven deacons of the church in Jerusalem. Then Philip, who was also one of the Seven, went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. And it was recorded that “there was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:8). That’s true of every legitimate son and daughter of God. Their life bears the fruit of “love, joy, peace…” (Gal 5:22).
Think of Jesus, the Firstborn of the Father: how His life and presence always brought peace to the troubled, joy to the downcast, and hope to the hopeless. With Jesus in the boat, peace was guaranteed, though storm might arise. We, His younger brothers and sisters, can also have a real experience of this abundant life of peace and joy, through the mighty working of the Holy Spirit in us. Our lives can (and will) be instrumental in bringing peace to troubled people and rest to turbulent situations, if we submit to the Spirit of Christ.
Hebrews 12:14 says, “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” In the previous beatitude we saw the need for purity, or holiness, of heart if we are to see God. And here we are exhorted to pursue both peace and holiness. This suggests that there is a close connection between peace and holiness. Both are like the two sides of a coin. If I claim that my heart is pure and that I’m at peace with God and yet I’m not at peace with those around me, but I’m often fighting or quarreling with them, then I’m only deceiving myself. Our duty, as Christians, is to seek peace with “ALL PEOPLE,” not with some or even most people, whether or not they are believers. But, sadly, many professing Christians are not even at peace with one another, let alone with those who are outside. We see “Christians” holding grudges, backbiting, and fighting with one another. They quarrel with one another and even sue one another to court over trivial, earthly matters, right before unbelievers, like those carnal Corinthians whom Paul rebuked sharply in the sixth chapter of his first letter to them. They seem not to realize that such behaviors are a disgrace to the Christian faith and a hindrance to the gospel of Christ. Such acts can constitute a stumbling block (and an offense) to some who are advancing toward God’s Kingdom, saying something like, “If that’s the way Christians behave—fighting, quarreling, dragging each other to court, etc.—then it’s better not to join them.” We need to repent, if we are guilty of such. Let strive to “give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God,” as Paul writes to the Corinthians, “just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved” (1 Cor. 10:32-33).
It's one thing to be a peace-lover, but quite another thing to be a peacemaker. Jesus doesn’t say, “Blessed are the peace-lovers,” but He says, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Many love peace, but only a few make peace. The former is a passive thing, but the latter is an active thing. God wants all His children to be, not only peace-lovers but beyond that, peacemakers. He desires that we should “strive to live in peace with everybody” (Heb. 12:14, AMP). One major way for us to achieve that is by being patient with others. Peace and patience go hand in hand, just as trouble and impatience do. The more patient we are with others, the easier it will become for us to be at peace with them. And vice versa. For instance, why do many motorists get into trouble with other motorists on the road? It’s largely due to impatience. Even in the home, workplace and other places, many troubles could be avoided, if people would learn to be more patient with one another. Patience is one chief attribute of love, as revealed in that popular chapter on love. In fact, it’s the first attribute mentioned there: “Love is patient” (1 Cor. 13:4, NLT); or, “Love suffers long” (NKJV). This teaches us that if truly we love others, we will be patient with them and make allowance for their faults (Eph 4:2, NLT). We will bear with them and overlook their mistakes, as long as possible, and thus be at peace with them.
However, we need to understand that being a peacemaker doesn't mean that one should become a wishy-washy compromiser who seeks to “make peace” and be popular with everyone even at the expense of true holiness and righteousness. Listen to what Jesus has to say concerning this:
Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to “set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” And “a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.” (Matt 10:34-36)
The above passage may seem to contradict the command to “pursue peace” when viewed on the surface, but if we consider the two carefully in the light of the life and teachings of Jesus, we will find that there is no contradiction at all. We need to be well established in the fact that God’s Word is absolute true and trustworthy in spite of the seeming contradictions therein. Otherwise our faith may be shaken or even swept away by false teachings described by Paul as “profane and vain babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge” (1 Tim 6:20).
Now let me explain that passage in Matthew 10:34-36. We know that a sword is an instrument of war used to fight in those days. It can also be used to cut or divide something. In essence, what Jesus is trying to say is that He has come to bring a kind of division between people, even between sets of people with the strongest human bond (such as families). This is a positive kind of division like the type that God brought between light and darkness at the beginning (Gen 1:4). You may have heard or seen cases of some believers who were disowned, ostracized or persecuted, by their families after they were converted from false religions to Christianity. That’s one practical demonstration of Jesus’ mission statement expressed in that passage. The disciple of Jesus should be ready for “war” even with his friends, families and those who are dearest to him, for the sake of Christ and the gospel. “Better to be divided by the truth than united by a lie” should be his motto, as one has rightly said. He must not settle for peace with men at the expense of his inner peace with God. He must be prepared for war with his relatives and friends and all people, if need be, in order to maintain his inner peace with God and remain faithful to the Lord Jesus. His love for the Lord must be supreme, far greater than his love for father, mother, brothers, sisters, wife, children, and his own life. He has to lose his own corruptible self-life for the sake of Christ, that he may lay hold on the incorruptible, eternal life of God, as we are further told in that passage:
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it. (Matt 10:37-39)
Though the Lord Jesus has clearly shown us that there is no other way to eternal life than the way of the cross, as in the above passage and other similar passages of Scripture, yet the true message of the cross is hardly preached in our day. Why is that? Why do many preachers seem to shy away from proclaiming the only message that has the capacity to give eternal, abundant life—a life of authentic, abiding peace and joy—to people? In the days of Jesus, when the Romans were ruling the world, people had a clear understanding of what it meant for one to “take up (bear) the cross.” Then a cross bearer was considered as an object of shame and ridicule and, at best, pity. He was seen as a capital offender deserving nothing but capital punishment. And so when Jesus gave the call to “take up the cross and follow Him,” those who heard Him must have understood the implications of obeying that call: a call to suffering, shame, pain and death; not a call to wear a cross pendant on a chain around the neck or any such things. In a nutshell, the message of the cross is the message of suffering and death. It’s an invitation to come and die: to die to (deny) self with its will, desires, passions, ways, interests, opinions, etcetera, which oppose God’s. Obviously such a message isn’t something pleasurable or enjoyable and many won’t love to hear it. I guess that explains why many preachers try to evade it.
Friend, we need to pray that God would open our eyes to see beyond this passing world and all that it has to offer including its counterfeit, short-lived peace, security, happiness, honor, pleasure and comforts; and to see beyond the temporal war, suffering, shame, pain and afflictions that we may have to face as we walk faithfully with the Lord Jesus along the way of the cross. When our eyes are opened to see beyond these passing, temporal things, and to see our everlasting reward in Christ, then we will become resolute in our decision to deny self, take up the cross daily and follow Jesus—the Prince of Peace—come what may. In the long run we will all discover, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose,” as that faithful missionary to Ecuador (Jim Elliot) has rightly said. Though the world—including friends and family—may choose to be at war with us because of our devotion to Christ, yet we must seek to be at peace with them, as far as possible, as Paul writes to the Romans: “Do your part to live in peace with everyone, as much as possible” (Rom 12:18, NLT). Thus we will prove ourselves to be true sons and daughters of God.
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Beatitude 8: Readiness for Persecution I
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:10)
Christian persecution, like the message of the cross pointed out in the previous beatitude, is not a popular subject in Christendom nowadays. Many “Christians” have become ardent lovers of self and pleasures, so much that they even consider this subject as a heresy. And when such Christians see a person suffering or going through some form of trial, they tend to pass judgment on the person, just as Job’s three friends did to him. They may accuse the person of being a fanatic, self-righteous, unfaithful in tithes and offerings—like that popular cliché, “If you are suffering, check your offering! If things are tight for you, check your tithe!”—or the like. They seem to have forgotten or neglected the fact that Jesus, whom they claim to follow, and all His apostles suffered immensely, especially in the hands of religious bigots of their day. And record shows that almost all of them suffered violent deaths. They also taught that true disciples of all ages will suffer persecution and tribulation.
These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. (2 Tim 3:12)
The above are only two among dozens of New Testament scriptures that talk about Christian persecution. I often wonder why there seems to be so much compromise and unrighteousness among professing Christians of today? Why is it that many believers tell lies, cheat at school or workplace, compromise in one way or the other, and live far below the standards of righteousness found in the new covenant? Why is it so difficult to find one faithful person who would rather suffer, in one form or the other, than break even the least of the commands of Christ? It’s largely due to the love of self and of this present, evil world. The vast majority of believers love the approval (praise and honor) of men more than that of God. We care more about the opinion of people than that of God. We seem too concerned about what others may say, or think, of us if they notice our uncompromising stand for righteousness. And so we often choose to give in and follow the ease-and-pleasure-loving crowd down the broad way that leads to destruction. How sad!
To the Galatians Paul writes, “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Gal 5:16-17). Here we see that the desires of the flesh and of the Spirit are diametrically opposed to each other. As believers in Christ, we will find a constant “tug of war” between the flesh and the Spirit inside of us. And we may find ourselves doing what we don’t really want to do, or not doing what we really wish to do deep down inside our hearts. Thus we have to be resolute in our choice to take the side of the Spirit in this war, firm in our decision to listen to His voice and be led by Him. Taking the side of the flesh and yielding to its lusts may give us some degree of pleasure, but it’s a sham and short-lived kind of pleasure which leads to spiritual death. Whereas, taking the side of the Spirit and obeying His voice may cause us some degree of suffering or pain, but this is the sure pathway to everlasting life and peace, as Paul also writes to the Romans:
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace… Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Rom 8:5-13)
As said earlier, the Christian calling is about taking up the cross and following Jesus. Apparently, bearing the cross is not something one enjoys but rather endures. In Hebrews chapter twelve we are exhorted, “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:1-2). For us to fulfill our Christian calling and run the heavenly race until we reach the finish line, we need a great deal of endurance, as in the case of a professional athlete. We must be ready to endure suffering, shame, pain and persecution, like our Forerunner Jesus, “who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest [we] become weary and discouraged in [our] souls” (Heb. 12:3).
We are also told that one major way by which God demonstrates His love for His children is through divine discipline or chastening, painful though (Heb 12:5-8). It’s not as if God enjoys watching His children go through painful and difficult experiences. No, He doesn’t! He is an infinitely loving Father, much more loving than the best of earthly fathers, who feels the pains of His children as much as, and even more than, they do. This is what Isaiah meant when he wrote: “In all their affliction He was afflicted…” (Isa 63:9). Why then does He permit painful, unpleasant experiences in our lives? He does so for our highest good: “that we may be partakers of His holiness” and bear “the peaceable fruit of righteousness,” as the writer of the book of Hebrews further explains (vs 10, 11). God the Father is like a good doctor who doesn’t spare the syringe, knife, needle, and all that is needed to perform a surgery on a patient, for the well-being of the patient.
In the military soldiers go through many hours of rigorous and hard trainings regularly, so as to make them fit for warfare and the tasks ahead of them. And when soldiers are being trained, they are not lodged in a five-star hotel. Likewise, the Christian has been called to “endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ,” as Paul writes to Timothy (2 Tim 2:3). In his letter to the Philippians Paul states that his goal or ambition is to know Christ and not only the power of His resurrection but also “the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Phi 3:10). In his letter to the Colossians he also says, “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church” (Col 1:24). In another place we read, “We MUST through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). All these suggest that persecutions and tribulations are a core part (not elective) of our Christian calling, if we are to enter and possess God’s Kingdom. And they are also a privilege which we ought to rejoice in and be thankful for and not complain or grumble about, as the early apostles did (see Acts 5:41) and as Paul writes to the Philippians, “For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him” (Phi 1:29, NLT).
The more we share in the sufferings and afflictions of Christ, the more we partake of the Divine life and nature, and the more we grow and become fruitful spiritually. This may be quite difficult for our minds to grasp, but it’s absolutely true! And we need to believe and accept it. We see a picture of this reality even in the Old Testament, when the children of Israel were in the land of Egypt. We read: “But the more they (the Egyptians) afflicted them (the Israelites), the more they multiplied and grew. And they were in dread of the children of Israel” (Exo 1:12). Likewise, the more the saints of God are persecuted and afflicted for His sake, they tend to multiply and grow the more both in quality (faith and spiritual virtues) and even in quantity (number). And thus the forces and agents of darkness are in dread and afraid of them, and the Lord is glorified in them, just as Peter also writes:
Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. (1 Pet 4:12-16)
Therefore, beloved, let's patiently endure the little trials and sufferings that may come our way today for righteousness’ sake without murmuring or complaining. And when greater trials come, including the great tribulation which some think believers won’t experience, God will give us grace to endure and overcome if we have sought to be faithful in lesser ones. If we are not willing and prepared to endure the pain of self-denial daily—the pain of denying ourselves the pleasure of indulging fleshly desires and passions everyday—how shall we be ready to endure the pain of being beaten, imprisoned, tortured, or suffering some form of persecution for the sake of righteousness and our faith in Christ? Let’s ponder these rhetorical questions that God once asked Jeremiah when he complained to Him:
So Jeremiah, if you’re worn out in this footrace with men, what makes you think you can race against horses? And if you can’t keep your wits during times of calm, what’s going to happen when troubles break loose like the Jordan in flood? (Jer. 12:5, MSG)
It’s been rightly said that “those who sweat more in times of peace will bleed less in times of war.” It’s only by denying self and bearing the cross daily—bearing the pain and shame which accompany self-denial everyday—that our spiritual muscles can be built to withstand whatever persecution may come our way, as we follow Jesus. Like Jesus, we’ve got to arm ourselves with a mindset (attitude) that’s willing and ready to suffer rather than to enjoy even the slightest pleasure of sin (1 Pet 4:1, 2). This was the same mindset that Moses had (Heb 11:24-26). No wonder he, unlike the vast majority of the children of Israel, was able to endure the great trials that they went through in the wilderness without murmuring and whining and giving up.
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Beatitude 9: Readiness for Persecution II
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5:11-12)
In the previous beatitude I tried to explain the blessedness of being persecuted “for righteousness’ sake.” And now we want to consider the blessedness of being persecuted “for Christ’s sake.” The two are more or less the same. I believe Jesus repeated this subject of persecution in order to help His disciples see it as an essential part of their calling. He wanted them (and us, of course) to see persecution and suffering from the new-covenant viewpoint, a point of view far different from what they were accustomed to (under the law, in which every suffering was considered as a kind of curse or bad luck). If we observe the kind of life led by some non-Christians in the world, we find that their life is such a standing rebuke to some so-called Christians in the sense that the former are willing to stand, defend and even die, for their personal conviction about what they consider right or are taught so, while the latter lack the backbone to stand for the One who loved them and died for them.
Unlike the average believer of today who has little or no experience of persecution, the early Christians had substantial, practical knowledge of the blessedness of being persecuted for the sake of Christ and the gospel. During the early centuries (when the Romans were ruling the world, before the reign of Constantine in the 4th century CE), Christianity was not a popular thing. Then being a Christian was like being enlisted in the army for warfare. And we know that no soldier going to war is guaranteed of safe return, since there is every possibility that he gets injured or dies in the battlefield. Church history reveals that every apostle of Jesus, except John, suffered a violent death. Some of the early Christians were also reportedly used for sport/entertainment by throwing them to hungry lions in the Roman amphitheaters. As a result, many hypocrites and half-hearted people didn’t dare identify with Christ and join the church.
It's an established fact that Christian persecution has usually facilitated the propagation of the gospel and the growth of the church. The blood of Christian martyrs seems to be a kind of “fertilizer” that has enhanced the work of Christ on earth. For instance, when a great wave of persecution arose against the church at Jerusalem about the time that Stephen—the first Christian martyr—was brutally murdered by the Jews, many believers (including Philip) were compelled to take the message of the gospel to other places beyond Jerusalem including the regions of Judea and Samaria (Acts 8). Even today, record shows that some of the fastest growing churches are in countries where Christians suffer extreme persecution for their faith, in countries such as Iraq, China, etc. In such places you will find a good number of the most radical and wholehearted Christians in the world.
Unfortunately, in most places, Christianity has now become a kind of business center or entertainment industry, where any Tom, Dick or Harry rushes to get in. Prosperity-gospel preachers seem to have enlarged the needle's eye for camels to run through it pretty easily! Alas! Countless number of souls seems to have been bewitched by the enchanting spells of the corrupt and adulterous church, tantamount to Babylon the Great, "the Mother of Harlots and of the Abominations of the Earth" (Rev 17:5). However, amidst all this spiritual decadence, there remains a righteous, holy remnant that keeps the commandments of God and has the testimony of Jesus Christ. What should this remnant—the true church—expect from the world and the corrupt church? Acceptance, honor or praise? None of these! But rather rejection, persecution and defamation. She, with her children, should expect nothing but rage and war from the dragon as well as his followers, according to the revelation given to John (Rev 12:17). “Blessed are you WHEN,” says the Lord Jesus (not “IF,” implying that the time will surely come), “they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.”
As said earlier, persecutions and tribulations are a privilege which we ought to embrace with all cheerfulness and thankfulness, though this may be somewhat difficult for us to understand or accept. Therefore, when men hate and persecute us because of our uncompromising stand for Christ and His righteousness, we shouldn’t bow our heads in shame and walk away sadly, neither should we compromise and join the lost crowd. For us (Christians) this cliché, “If you can’t beat them, join them!” shouldn’t even be heard among us. But rather this should be our response to persecution: “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” In other words, when we suffer for the sake of Christ, our focus shouldn’t be on the temporal suffering—or the “light affliction,” as Paul calls it—but on the everlasting reward—the “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory”—reserved for us in Heaven (2 Cor. 4:17-18). And let’s always remember that we are not alone in the sufferings, but are in good company of the prophets and saints who’ve also suffered for their faith. See the Message Bible paraphrase of our opening text:
You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even! —for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble. (Matt 5:12, MSG)
Though the latter generations usually honor and celebrate the prophets of old, yet they were despised and persecuted in their days. It’s been like that since time immemorial. And so we shouldn’t be surprised nor discouraged when we also suffer for our faith in Christ. On the contrary, we should be surprised and concerned if the world honors and celebrates the Christian for his faith. Unfortunately, these are the things which many professing Christians of today (including pastors and church leaders) seek and even boast about: worldly honor, fame, riches, comforts, etc., like those carnal Corinthians whom Paul rebuked in his letters to them. But Paul had none of these things to boast about; for to him they were all “RUBBISH,” as he wrote to the Philippians (Phi 3:7-11). In his second letter to the Corinthians we see that he was reluctant to talk about even the visions and revelations that he received from the Lord, and the signs, wonders and spiritual exploits that God did through him. Why? Because he didn’t want anyone to evaluate him on the basis of spiritual gifts, much less on the basis of material things. He wanted people to assess him by the same measure that the Lord used, that is, by the fruit of his life—including the fruit of his patience and perseverance in tribulation. Little wonder he said, “I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake,” for all that gave him the opportunity to experience the power of Christ and thus develop patience and strength of character (see 2 Cor. 12:1-12; Jas 1:2-4).
The parallel passage of our opening text (Matt 5:11-12) found in Luke's Gospel says: “Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and LEAP for joy…” (Luke 6:22-23). Do you know that this is the only place where Jesus tells us to “leap (jump) for joy” or “dance in the spirit,” as they say? What an encouragement this should be to everyone who seeks to be a wholehearted and faithful follower of the Lord Jesus Christ in this end time!
Howbeit, it’s important for us to note that there is no virtue in suffering unnecessarily for our faith in Christ, if we have a means of escaping or defending ourselves. There was a time Jesus Himself avoided the region of Judea because the Jews there sought to kill Him (John 7:1). He once instructed His disciples that when they were persecuted in one city, they should flee to another and didn’t have to stay in the former (Matt 10:23). And we see the early Christians, especially Paul and his company, obeying that instruction (as seen in the book of Acts). On the night of His betrayal and arrest, Jesus even told the disciples to sell their garment and buy a sword, if they had none (Luke 22:36). What was the sword meant for? I suppose it’s meant to defend themselves in the face of trouble/death and not only to fulfill the prophecy written concerning Him (quoted in the next verse, Luke 22:37).
May we receive wisdom from above and grace to be sensitive to the voice and leading of the Holy Spirit, so that we may know how we ought to act and respond at every point in time and in every situation we find ourselves. And may the vision of the cross of Christ be alive and fresh in our minds and our hearts always, that we may be enabled to gladly endure all things and count all earthly gains as rubbish (garbage, trash) for Christ’s sake (as Paul and the saints of old did). Let me wrap up with these lovely lines of one of my favorite hymns composed by Isaac Watt:
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
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The Salt and the Light of the World
So far, I’ve attempted to explain the nine attitudes which are becoming of the disciple of Jesus. And there we’ve seen that those who are truly blessed—fortunate, happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous with life, joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions, according to the Amplified Bible paraphrase—are not multimillionaires, famous celebrities, influential politicians or revered religious leaders, but these:
1.The poor in spirit – those who are humble and have a deep sense of their need for God, for His mercy and grace. To such the Kingdom of Heaven, with all its riches, belongs.
2.The mourners – those who mourn or sorrow in a godly manner leading to salvation. Such shall experience divine comfort and strength.
3.The meek – those who have learned from Jesus to be humble and gentle, and thus have found rest for their souls. Such shall inherit the whole earth.
4.The hungry and thirsty – those who desire and seek nothing but Christ Himself, the Embodiment of righteousness, wisdom, truth, love and all spiritual virtues. Such will experience true fulfillment and satisfaction.
5.The merciful – those who deal mercifully and kindly with others, just as God has dealt with them. Such will obtain more mercy from God and help from people.
6.The pure in heart – those whose heart is fully (100%) consecrated and committed to God, totally dead to the world. Such shall see the Almighty always and in every situation of life.
7.The peacemakers – those who make peace and bring the atmosphere of Heaven everywhere they find themselves. Such shall be called sons and daughters of the God of peace.
8.The persecuted for righteousness’ sake – those who endure sufferings for doing what God considers right. To such God’s Kingdom, with all its glories, belongs.
9.The persecuted for Christ’s sake – those who are reviled, persecuted and maligned for the sake of Christ and the gospel. The reward of such is exceedingly great in Heaven.
Having stated all the beatitudes, Jesus goes on to say:
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. (Matt 5:13-16)
One thing you need to bear in mind as you read is that Jesus addresses His disciples primarily in the Sermon on the Mount. In the above passage, the disciples are first described as “the salt of the earth.” What does that mean? We know that salt is one essential ingredient needed when preparing food. No matter the kind or amount of spices added to food, without salt that food will be tasteless. Likewise, the calling of the Christian is to bring the taste and sweetness of Heaven to the world around him/her. One mark of true sons (and daughters) of God is that they bring sweetness and peace (the atmosphere of Heaven) everywhere they go, as said earlier (Matt 5:9). Their whole life—including their speech and conduct—promotes peace, harmony and cooperation among people, rather than strife, disunity and competition. This is our calling, as Christians, to be the salt of the earth. Our lives should be well “seasoned with salt,” as Paul puts it in his letter to the Colossians:
Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. (Col 4:6)
The tongue is a very important part of the body. It’s one of the sense organs of the body which is responsible for taste. It’s our tongue that enables us to sense the taste of salt in a soup and the taste of everything that goes into our mouth. It’s the tongue that helps us to ascertain the saltiness, sweetness, bitterness, etc., of food. Likewise, in the spiritual realm, the degree of our spiritual saltiness and the level of our spiritual maturity can be verified by the way we use our tongue—by our words, both spoken and written—as James states without mincing words, “For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect (mature) man, able also to bridle the whole body” (Jas 3:2). One primary mark of a spiritual Christian is that he bridles (controls) his tongue. He is careful about what and how he speaks. He is “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (Jas 1:19). He is a wise man who isn’t hasty in his words, but rather thinks carefully before speaking. He realizes that “there is more hope for a fool than for someone who speaks without thinking” (Pro 29:20, NLT). He seeks to speak like Jesus whose speech was not only with authority, but also with grace and simplicity. This is God’s desire for us: to be a spiritual people growing daily until we all attain the full, complete stature of Christ.
Salt is also one kind of preservative, by which food can be preserved. In the same vein, one thing that has preserved this sin-infected, corrupt earth from complete destruction is the presence of God’s holy people in it. For instance, in the days of Noah, the human race and other creations on earth were preserved from the great flood because of the faith and obedience of one man who found favor before God. We see this reality being played out throughout human history. And so we, the people of God and believers in Christ, must ensure that we don’t lose our “flavor”—our holy and heavenly calling—lest we be thrown out like flavorless salt and perish with unbelievers.
The disciples are also described as “the light of the world.” Note that the word “world,” as used in the Bible, could mean any of the following based on the context: (1) the planet Earth; (2) all the people living on earth (both believers and unbelievers); (3) the unbelievers; (4) the system, values and principles held by earthly people which are largely influenced by Satan, the prince (ruler) of this world. Numbers (3) and (4) are peculiar to the New Testament. Having said that, we know that one major quality of light is that it facilitates vision. That is, it helps one to see what one might not have seen, if there were no light. For instance, if you enter a dark room, you may not see anything in the room even though that thing may be right in front of you. But as soon as light is turned on, the things in the room become manifest (obvious, known) to you. Similarly, our calling (as Christians) is to be the light of this dark world, to help people see the glory of God even as we make Him known.
The glory, beauty and majestic power of God can be seen (to some degree) in nature—in the rising and setting of the sun, in the constellation of the stars, in the waves and roarings of the oceans, in the orderly movement of the planets along their individual orbits around the sun, in impressive landscapes of the earth, in the plant and animal kingdoms, and so on. Just as David exclaims: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge…” (Psa. 19:1, 2). But far beyond nature, the glory and majesty of God have been perfectly revealed in the Person of Jesus Christ. And our duty (as the light of the world) is to help others see God’s glory, goodness and greatness, particularly in the face of Jesus. How? Through our works of faith and love. If indeed we are children of light and are walking in the light, our works—our speech and conduct, our words and deeds—will show it. Children of light can no more be hidden than a city or house built on the mountaintop. If we are true children of God who is Light personified, our lives will reveal something of His loving and holy nature in such a way that others will see and be drawn, like the way insects are drawn to light at night. And when people are drawn we must be careful to point them to Jesus and lead them to glorify God alone, not us. If our lives are not drawing others to Christ, we may still be in darkness and perhaps be imagining that we are in the light.
However, we need to note that not everyone will appreciate the shining of our light. Take Jesus, for example, He was the light of the world while He was in the world. And His light shone so brightly, in the brightest possible way like the shining of the mid-day sun, before men. But did they appreciate and honor Him for that? Not many did that! The vast majority of the Jews hated Him, despised Him, persecuted Him, and finally crucified Him. Why? Because they loved their evil works of darkness, and Jesus’ light exposed their evil works. It’s just like that today. If your light is shining indeed, you will most likely be hated by the world and especially by worldly “Christians,” because your light will naturally expose/reveal their evil works including the wrong doctrines and traditions of men that they’ve held unto. That’s why some Christians try to hide their light under a basket, as it were, for fear of what others might do to (speak or think of) them. Such Christians want to be in everybody’s good book. This ought not to be so. We should rather light our lamp and put it on a lampstand, that it may give light to all who are in the house.
May we receive grace to cultivate all the right attitudes explained in this part, attitudes becoming of the new creation in Christ. May we also be divinely enabled to fulfill our glorious calling as the salt and the light of the world today.
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THE WRONG ATTITUDES
Having considered the “BE-attitudes,” attitudes becoming of the new creation, we now want to examine the wrong attitudes which are unbecoming of the Christian. But first, let’s see what Jesus says in verses 17-20 of the same chapter (5) of Matthew’s Gospel.
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. (Matt 5:17-20)
When new-covenant truths are presented, as in the beatitudes, there is usually a tendency for people to assume that the Old Testament is no longer relevant to Christians, even if the truths are carefully and accurately presented. To avoid making such wrong assumptions, Jesus was prompt to tell His disciples that He had not come to destroy the Law or the Prophets—Old Testament scriptures—but rather to fulfill them. We need to understand that every Old Testament prophecy, pertaining to the first advent of Christ, has already been fulfilled in Him. In the Gospels we read, on a number of occasions, that certain things happened in/around the life of Jesus, “that scripture might be fulfilled.” We see that on five various occasions in the first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel alone (Matt 1:22-23, 2:5-6, 14-15, 17-18, 22-23). In addition to that, every righteous requirement of the Law has been fulfilled in Christ and also in those who are in Him and walk in Him (Rom 8:1-4). And so we are no longer debtors or slaves to the Law of Moses; we are no longer under any obligation to keep the fleshly ordinances contained in the Law such as what to eat, what to drink, what to wear, keeping or celebration of certain days, washing of hands, and what have you (Col 2:11-23).
As believers in Christ, we have been freed not only from sin, but also from the Law. We have now become “slaves” of the Lord Jesus (Rom 6:7, 18; 7:4-6). And, as slaves, what’s expected of us is absolute loyalty and unquestioning obedience to our new Master. Like the Law, Christ also demands complete obedience from His subjects to ALL His commands including “the least commands.” In fact, He says: “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.”
Moreover, the righteous standards of Christ compared to those of the Law are like a skyscraper compared to a bungalow. But, unlike the Law that only gives commands without empowering its subjects to keep the commands, Christ empowers His subjects to keep His commands. Jesus doesn’t just require that the disciple’s righteousness should exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees which is from the Law, but beyond that, He gives them grace and power to do so. We need to be well established in this great truth: that we can obey ALL the commands of Christ by the power of God’s grace. Otherwise, our Christian journey will be quite tedious and burdensome instead of being a delight. Let’s therefore read on in view of this reality.
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Wrong Attitude 1: Anger
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. (Matt 5:21-26)
When Moses was with God on Mount Sinai, God gave him two tablets of stone on which the Ten Commandments were written with God’s finger. One tablet contains the first four commandments which deal with man’s relationship with God; the other tablet contains the remaining six which deal with man’s relationship with his fellow man. In Jesus’ day, many Jews (especially the sect of the Pharisees) adhered strictly to those commandments and could even boast of having kept all except the tenth one, that is, “You shall not covet” (Exo 20:17). Even Paul, who regarded himself blameless concerning the righteousness of the Law, acknowledged that he couldn’t keep the tenth command (see Phi 3:6; Rom 7:7-8). Every sincere and humble person would also acknowledge that. I believe that the tenth command was added to teach us that there is more to the other nine commands than they appear to be on the surface. When Jesus showed up, His life and teachings affirmed that there is indeed much more to those commands than the average Jew knew then and even the average Christian knows today. For instance, the sixth command says, “You shall not murder” (Exo 20:13); but Jesus teaches that one shouldn’t even be angry with his brother (or sister) without a cause, nor allow bitterness in one’s heart toward them.
Anger, in a sense, is not a sin. Let me explain. It’s a kind of feeling usually activated in a person when he perceives some wrong done to him and/or to other people. Man was designed by God not only as a moral and intelligent being, but also as an emotional being. We have emotions (feelings), both positive emotions—such as delight, happiness, peace, pleasure, satisfaction, etc.—and negative emotions—such as anger, sadness, fear, pain, hunger, etc. What determines whether or not we sin is not the fact that we have these feelings, nor the fact that we acknowledge them, but what we do about them and how we manage them. For instance, if you are walking in the dark and then someone burst out in front of you, perhaps in an attempt to play pranks on you, you may feel shocked or scared. Now does the fact that you feel that way mean that you have sinned? No, of course! Likewise, if a person says or does something that makes you feel angry, the fact that you feel angry doesn’t necessary mean that you have sinned. How you manage that feeling and respond to that person will determine whether or not you sin. Your feeling can either make you bitter or better. If you allow your feeling to make you bitter so that you begin to entertain unloving and ill thoughts toward the person, then of course, you’ve sinned even if you don’t verbalize or express your bitterness. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can choose to respond with love and goodness, even if the person seems unwilling to acknowledge what you perceive as his/her wrong after having expressed your feeling to them. “Anger can be a powerful and positive motivator, useful to move us toward loving action to right wrongs and correct injustice—but it also can become a raging, uncontrolled force,” as Gary Chapman has aptly stated in his classic book on Anger.
Jesus says that, as long as we are in this world, “offenses must come” (Matt 18:7). How then can we deal with offenses and provocations that come from other people, either deliberately or otherwise? How can we overcome when we are tempted to be angry and sin? How can we resist our fleshly desire to return insult for insult and evil for evil? Here is the answer: “CONSIDER HIM (Jesus) who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls” (Heb. 12:3). If our eyes are fixed on Jesus, if we think about Him and all that people did (and said) to Him and how He responded to them, then we also will receive divine enablement to follow His footsteps and manage our emotions appropriately.
One reason why many of us take this issue of anger lightly is that we are yet to see how serious it is in God’s eyes. Jesus explains that if you are angry with your brother/sister without a cause (reason), you are already in danger of judgment. Have you found yourself angry with someone else for just no reason at all? Sometimes that anger may be born out of jealousy or envy, perhaps you are envious of something good which you see in that person and which you lack, as in the case of the Jewish leaders who were envious of Jesus because of His supernatural gifts and ministry which made the people flock around Him. Their envy made them so angry and mad at Jesus that they couldn’t bear to have Him around, and so they earnestly sought to get rid of Him. After they had got Him arrested and brought before Pilate, the motive (envy) behind their actions became so clear that even Pilate himself could read it. Needless to say, such negative dispositions with no justified reason—as in the case of those Jewish leaders toward Jesus and as in the case of Cain toward his brother Abel—are sinful, evil and unbecoming of the Christian. Howbeit, there are some justified grounds for one to be angry without having to sin, as we shall see next.
In Proverbs 16:32, we are told that it’s better for one to exercise control over his emotions and tempers than for him to control or govern a city (or even a whole country, I would add). This shows us how precious self-control is in the eyes of God. It’s one essential fruit that the Holy Spirit will produce in us, if we are Spirit-filled indeed. But if we fail to learn self-control and how to manage our emotions when we encounter provocations, if we allow our emotions to get the better part of us and we get angry and say something brash—such as “Waka!” or “Fool!” or the like—or do something hurtful to our neighbor, then we are in danger of Hell, as Jesus says. How many of us believe that? If we do believe, then we won’t tolerate any atom of unholy anger in us. There is an unholy kind of anger—which is closely related to envy, bitterness, gossiping, backbiting, slander and all types of malicious behavior—which we are commanded to put away (Eph. 4:31). It’s a kind of anger with no justifiable reason, as pointed out earlier, and it’s rash. James describes that kind of anger as “the wrath of man” which “does not produce the righteousness of God” (Jas 1:20). And anyone who harbors such kind of anger is called a fool (Eccl 7:9). But there is a holy kind of anger, a God’s kind of anger, which Jesus Himself sometimes displayed during His earthly life such as the time when He made a whip to drive out those who were doing business in the temple of God and were turning His Father’s house into a den of thieves (as pointed out in part one when discussing the third beatitude Meekness).
Vividly Jesus displayed anger not over personal issues—as in when people abused or mistreated Him—but over matters that concerned the holy Name of His Father as well as the needs of others, as in the case of the man with a withered hand whom He healed on the Sabbath with which the Jews found fault (Mark 3:1-5). Also we should note that Jesus was always in a perfectly right state of mind, even when He was angry. A casual observer that saw Him overturning the tables of moneychangers in the temple might think, “What’s wrong with this guy? Has he lost his mind or what?” But we know that Jesus was perfectly okay and in His right senses. He had perfect control over His emotions and passions. His entire life—including His thoughts, words, actions and everything else—was always controlled and moderated by the Holy Spirit inside of Him, not by His emotions or His self-will. And His anger was only for a little while. Though He was angry sometimes, yet He didn’t stay angry. And that’s the way it should be in our lives too. We ought not to tolerate unholy anger in our lives. If we must be angry, it should be with justifiable reasons and for a little while. If we must burn, it should be with holy anger, tantamount to holy zeal. This is the kind of anger that Paul refers to in his letter to the Ephesians, quoting some portion of the book of Psalm:
Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life. (Eph. 4:26-27, MSG)
So we see that it’s okay to be angry sometimes, but we are not to stay/remain angry. We shouldn’t go to bed angry. It’s best for us to resolve the issue that makes us angry with the person/group involved, as soon as possible (within 24 hours, if possible), rather than bottling up the matter and thus lose our peace of mind and perhaps explode someday. When seeking to resolve an issue, we shouldn’t allow our emotions take over and make us yell unnecessarily and say or do something that will worsen the matter instead of settling it. When you are angry with someone, I would suggest you go for a walk, pray or do something else to calm your nerves, take some deep breath and clear your head before attempting to resolve the matter, lest you make it worse. Also, this is not the best time to start thinking of all the wrongs or mistakes of the person (like we tend to do), but rather the time to remember some good points about them. This will help to pacify you and handle the situation in an appropriate manner. Our anger, displeasure and negative feelings toward others can either deepen or dampen our relationship with them. It all depends on how we see and manage these feelings.
Furthermore, if we want to present an offering or service to God and then “remember”—become aware—that someone has something against us, perhaps because of something offensive said or done to him/her, Jesus commands us to suspend that offering and “first be reconciled”—first settle the matter with him/her (Matt 5:23-24). Otherwise, our offering—whether material such as money or immaterial such as prayer—is just a waste. John, talking about the offering of prayer to God in his first letter, also affirms:
Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. (1 John 3:21-22)
In other words, we can come boldly to God in the place of prayer, “if our conscience is clear,” as the New Living Translation puts it, if we maintain a conscience without offense toward God and people. But if our heart condemns us—if our conscience troubles us concerning one thing or the other, perhaps some harsh word said or some hurtful thing done to someone—we had better set matters right while there is still time, lest Satan (the Accuser of the brethren) take advantage of us and we be delivered to God the Judge and the Omniscient, and be eventually thrown into the prison of Hell from which there will be no escape at all (Matt 5:25-26).
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Wrong Attitude 2: Sexual Immorality
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. Furthermore, it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery. (Matt 5:27-32)
There are a number of distinctions (differences) between the old and the new covenant, between life under law and life under grace. One major distinction is that the old focuses on getting the outside clean; while the new focuses on getting the inside clean. Likewise, those who are still living under the law are more concerned about their appearance and their testimony before men than the state of their heart and their testimony before God. The scribes (the teachers of the Law) and the Pharisees of old were just like that. Unfortunately, many professing Christians of today, especially those who belong to so-called holiness circles, are also like that. This is evident in their lifestyle and messages. Such folks make a list of endless rules (both written and unwritten) concerning what they should and shouldn’t wear (for their women trousers, jewelries, etc., are usually “no-go” areas, and for their men jeans and the like may be forbidden), what they should and shouldn’t eat/drink (pork, alcoholic drinks, etc., are usually on their list of forbidden food), where they should and shouldn’t go, and so on. They live strictly by those rules, though they may default in some, and also bind others by the same. To them the leading of the Holy Spirit, as well as the matter of personal conviction, is alien actually, though they may pay lip service to it. And to them these words of Jesus apply: “they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers (Matt 23:4).
Now back to the subject of sexual immorality. The seventh commandment says, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exo 20:14). But Jesus teaches that whoever looks at a woman (or girl) lustfully, to want to use her to satisfy his sexual desire, has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Just to be clear, sexual desire in itself isn’t a sin. It’s a normal desire, like the desire for food (hunger), that God has put in man. As a matter of fact, a person who doesn’t have sexual desire (or “konji,” as they call it) can’t be considered normal medically; and perhaps such a person needs to seek medical and/or spiritual help. So it’s not a sin for one to have sexual desire, though one may be tempted by this desire—tempted to seek to satisfy this desire outside of God’s provision, that is, outside of marriage—like one may be tempted to steal or do something wrong in order to satisfy his hunger. James also shows us that for desire (including sexual desire) to “give birth to sin,” to become sinful, “conception” has to take place first; and after “conception” has taken place in the mind, it’s only a matter of time before “the child of sin” is born, before one commits the real act in the body (Jas 1:15). And so it’s best for us to prevent conception—the forming of the fetus of sexually impure thoughts in our minds—from taking place, lest that fetus grow into sexually immoral acts such as masturbation, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, lesbianism, etcetera, whose end result is death—not just physical death but, much more serious than that, spiritual death and eternal death in the Lake of Fire. We have to be watchful and not fool around with anything/anyone that stimulates/provokes our fleshly desires. We, particularly young people, must heed Paul’s exhortation to Timothy:
Run from anything that stimulates youthful lust. Follow anything that makes you want to do right. Pursue faith and love and peace, and enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts. (2 Tim 2:22, NLT)
It’s quite commendable for one to keep his/her body from being defiled with external acts of sin e.g. fornication (applicable to the unmarried), adultery (applicable to the married), etc., especially in this present age when sexual immoralities and sexual perversions—including homosexuality, lesbianism, and bestiality—seem to have become a norm. This is a generation filled with abundance of sexual temptations on the streets, TV, Internet and social media, and even in some church gatherings where girls and women dress scantily as though they were attending a nightclub. Nevertheless, God expects more from us (Christians) since more has been given to us through His Son Jesus. We are expected to keep not only our body pure, but also our mind and heart. We shouldn’t be like the scribes and Pharisees who “cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of lust and self-indulgence” (Matt 23:25). But rather, we ought to “FIRST cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also” (vs 26).
Lust of the eyes (and of the flesh) is so serious in the sight of God that Jesus calls it “adultery” and recommends that one should “pluck out the eye and cast it away” and “cut off the hand and throw it away,” rather than for one to sin through any of them and wind up in Hell. Of course, Jesus is not commanding us to literally pluck out our eyes or cut off our hands, if they cause us to sin, for such bloody actions can’t stop us from sinning. Even the blind and the maimed are not free from evil lusts (lust simply means a strong desire, not necessarily evil/sinful). But the Lord is simply telling us to have a radical and violent attitude toward sinful lusts, instead of pampering them like most believers seem to do. “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force,” Jesus once said to the multitudes that followed Him (Matt 11:12). We’ve got to be radical and ready to suffer the loss of things and disassociate ourselves from persons/groups that are dear to us like our eyes and our hands, if those things or people are a stumbling block to us.
For example, it’s better for one to avoid some media/places (websites, cinemas, clubs, etc.) altogether than to go there and keep feeding the mind with porn or some other dirty stuffs. In fact, it’s far better for me to get rid of my phone or some other gadgets, if that will prevent me from sinning, than to keep them and continue to sin via them. Mind you, I’m not saying that you should dispose your phone, TV, or other gadgets, neither am I insinuating that it’s wrong to have or use these things. The point is: You should be willing to disconnect yourself from anything and any association, no matter how important or dear they may be to you, if they cause you to sin constantly. If you are in a relationship with someone that does pollute your body or even your mind (perhaps through erotic conversation, caressing, foreplay, etc.), you will do well to break free from such a relationship, not minding the emotional pain or whatever the breakup may cause you, unless the party involved is ready to repent with you. Also, to avoid unnecessary temptations and “stories that touch the heart,” it’s advisable for you to avoid being alone in a room with the opposite sex (who is not your spouse). Some may view all that as extreme or unnecessary. Well, if you want to argue that, argue not with me but with Jesus who 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. (Matt 5:29-30)
Hear what Job once said, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look with lust upon a young woman” (Job 31:1, NLT). Now this was a man who knew nothing about the old covenant that commands, “You shall not commit adultery,” much less the new covenant that teaches us not to lust after a woman. Yet he made a choice, according to the light that he had within him, not to lust after a woman. No wonder God did boast about him to the Devil! Likewise, Joseph, who lived long before the old covenant was established, chose to “FLEE from sexual immorality” when his master Potiphar’s wife made sexual advances to him, not minding the repercussions. Little wonder God later committed a whole empire to him, having proven himself faithful in the daily affairs of life, especially in the area of sex as well as other bodily desires. One reason, I find, why God seems unwilling to fully commit (entrust) Himself to many young people and make them His anointed vessels, His mouthpieces, is their lack of faithfulness especially in this area of sex. This lack of faithfulness (and trustworthiness) among people is also one major factor responsible for many broken marriages and unhappy homes, in which couples find it quite difficult (if not impossible) to trust each other, to the extent that some men are in doubt of the fatherhood of their supposed children and are seeking to confirm it through DNA test.
Come to think of this: If those men of old (Job, Joseph, etc.) could attain such a high standard of life, how much more should we, to whom much more has been given! Also we need to learn from those who missed the mark, including Samson and Solomon, because of their failure to discipline themselves and control their bodily desires. We, Christian men and boys, must train ourselves to see (and treat) women and girls with love and respect like God does, and not with lust and contempt like the world does. Likewise, Christian women and girls should also learn to see themselves the way Jesus sees them, as beloved daughters of the Most High with great purposes to fulfill, and not as mere sex objects to satisfy men’s sexual desire. As a dear daughter of God and younger sister of Jesus, your calling is not to “look sexy” like those worldly celebs, but to be modest and, above all, Christ-like.
Though the Devil may try very hard to paint a picture of “great thrill”—great pleasure or benefits—which we will get if we indulge our sensual lusts, like he did when he tempted Eve to eat of the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden, yet we don’t have to succumb to his old tricks like Eve did. The pleasure of sin is “SS”—Sham and Short-lived—followed by another “SS”—Shame and Sorrow. I guess you know the bitter consequences of her succumbing to temptation, suffered not only by her but by the entire human race. How careful she might have been if only she knew the full repercussions of listening to the tempter’s voice rather than God’s! How differently she might have acted if only she wholeheartedly believed the word (instruction) that God gave Adam regarding the tree which must have been communicated to her too! But now, thank God, we who are in Christ need not be defeated by the tempter, having been defeated by Christ on the cross. Like Jesus did, we also can put Satan to flight by wielding “the Sword of the Spirit,” the living Word of God. By the power of the Spirit of grace, we can resist him and subdue every evil lust that wars against our souls. “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace,” just as we are exhorted by the writer of the book of Hebrews, “that we may obtain mercy (for our past failures) and find grace to help in time of need (today and in the coming days)” (Heb. 4:16).
Further, Jesus makes it very clear that the disciple is NOT permitted to divorce his wife for just any reason other than sexual immorality. And that a man who divorces his wife for any reason (except for sexual immorality) causes her to commit adultery (apparently if she remarries), and the man who marries her is also guilty of adultery. In other words, divorce plus remarriage equals to adultery. Hear what Jesus told the Pharisees when they questioned Him about divorce which the Law of Moses seemed to permit:
And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man separate… Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning, it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery, and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” (Matt 19:4-9)
The above passage clearly shows us that divorce isn’t in the original plan of God for man, neither is polygamy, since He made only one woman (Eve) for the first man (Adam). What then shall we say about some professing Christians (especially some Christian leaders) who divorce their spouses for just about any reasons and even remarry while their spouses are still alive? Perhaps they don’t know, or they don’t believe, this teaching of Jesus. Even the disciples of Jesus considered this teaching as some kind of hard pill to swallow, saying, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry” (Matt 19:10). But whether or not we believe it, God doesn’t sanction divorce; neither does He approve polygamy in this new covenant age. Even in the Old Testament, it’s expressly stated that “He HATES divorce” (Mal 2:16). In this present dispensation the believer is expected to bear with his/her spouse in spite of their shortcomings, just as God bears with him/her. Even in the case of infidelity (sexual immorality) on the part of the spouse, the believer may still choose to forgive and stay in the marriage, especially if the spouse is truly repentant, and doesn’t have to opt for divorce.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating that a believer, a Christian woman particularly, should remain under the roof of an abusive partner where her life is being threatened. Such a woman needs to seek help as soon as possible, and perhaps separate from that abusive partner if need be. But she doesn’t have to remarry while her partner is still alive, unless he has committed adultery which is tantamount to breaking the marriage vow or unless he himself files for divorce. The same principles apply to the Christian man too. The seventh chapter of Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians is pretty instructive regarding this crucial matter of marriage, divorce and remarriage (I suggest you take time to study it yourself).
In addition, a polygamous man who becomes a Christian shouldn’t shun his responsibilities over his wives and the children that they bear for him. Such a man is expected to perform his roles as a husband to all his wives and especially as a father to all his children, including providing for their basic needs. Otherwise, he would be denying the faith and would be worse than an unbeliever according to 1 Timothy 5:8, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” That’s a principle which can be applied here too and not exclusive to the matter of believers taking care of their widows, as seen in the context.
“What about his sexual role to his wives? Is he supposed to be having sexual relationship with all his wives even after he has been converted?” one may ask. Well, that’s not an easy-to-answer question because the Bible seems not to provide a clear-cut answer to it. But we know that God’s original plan (and perfect will) is one man to one woman (monogamy), as established earlier. And so, if it’s unfit for a polyandrous woman who becomes a Christian to continue having sexual relationship with all the men whom she has married, is it fit for the polygamous man who becomes a Christian to do likewise? I don’t think so. “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” as the saying goes. This is where self-denial and restitution come into play. Thus it may become inevitable for only one wife (to whom he is sexually committed) to remain with him and for the rest to leave, especially if they are still young and available for remarriage.
It’s also important to note that one of the requirements for being a deacon, pastor, bishop or elder, in a local church is having only one wife, according to 1 Timothy 3:12 (AMP), “Let deacons be the husbands of but one wife, and let them manage [their] children and their own households well” (also see Titus 1:5-6). I suppose what’s ideal and fit for the Christian leader must be the same for every believer. Though it may not be easy for the man to be sexually committed to only one of his wives (perhaps the first wife) and to cut off sexual relationship with the other women, yet he must be willing to do so if indeed he considers it as God’s perfect will (beyond permissive will) for him. He should be ready to do what’s proper and approved by God according to his personal conviction and the light he has from God’s Word, even if it seems difficult or displeasing to him. Remember that it wasn’t easy but very painful for Abraham to send away his second wife Hagar the Egyptian even with her son Ishmael, being urged by his first wife Sarah to do so, and (most importantly) he had God’s backing to do accordingly. But note also that Abraham gave them something, though little (bread and water), before sending them away (Gen 21:8-14).
May the Lord grant more light and understanding to the reader. And may the God of hope fill every Christian home out there with all joy and peace, as we keep trusting and hoping in Him and holding on to His unchanging Word.
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Wrong Attitude 3: Falsehood
Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.” But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your “Yes” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No.” For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. (Matt 5:33-37)
The Law, recognizing the weakness and corruption of the human nature, demands that man should speak the truth when swearing, at least. Concerning the children of men, the Spirit through David says, “they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies” (Psa. 58:3). How true! No one needs to teach a child how to lie before they start telling lies. Unfortunately, many people grow up with this evil habit of lying, so that they do tell ridiculous lies and even lie when swearing. To them lying has become a second nature. Such people often speak carelessly and make empty promises. They make promises (and vows) and fail to keep them. But that shouldn’t be the case for the child of God. Christ—who is the Embodiment of truth—has come to make us partakers of His divine nature through the inner working of the Spirit of truth sent from above. And thus it is expected of us to speak the truth at all times without having to swear, either by heaven, earth, our head (“eleda”), or anything else.
Like Jesus, we ought not to be a “Yes and No” kind of person, as Paul puts it (2 Cor. 1:19). But rather our “Yes” should be “Yes,” and our “No,” “No.” In other words, each of us should be a man of his word who considers his words binding as though they were writings signed in the court of law, who keeps his words without having to remind him and no matter what he stands to gain or lose. And if for some reasons he is unable to keep his words (promises and vows), he explains with sincere apology, and not act as if he has forgotten or as if he hasn’t said those words. This is the mark of those who abide in the holy presence of God: “Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts… and keep their promises even when it hurts” (Psa. 15:1-5, NLT).
Truthfulness (sincerity and honesty) is one major thing required of anyone who would come to God and walk with Him; truthfulness not only in speech (external) but, more than that, from a sincere heart (inward), just as the psalmist says (Psa. 15:2). One may speak true (or right) words, perhaps in order to earn a reputation of being “truthful” or for some other self-centered reasons, and yet lack the right attitude of heart. For instance, I may say something like, “Oh! I’m such a wretched sinner! I’m a nobody! All my righteousness is nothing but a filthy rag!” and yet still look down on others and despise them, like the Pharisees of old did the tax collectors and harlots. This only proves that I don’t really mean those words; I’m not speaking the truth from a sincere heart. That is to say, I’m still a hypocrite, an actor and a pretender. The words of a truthful person mirror (reflect) what’s exactly in his heart. Only such people are guaranteed of coming to the light of God and walking therein (see John 3:20-21).
Why is it that we often find it difficult to eliminate every form of falsehood—including blatant lies, half-truth, pretense, false impressions, flatteries, white lies, etc.—from our lives? One main reason, I think, is our love of men’s approval (and honor) rather than God’s, or our fear of their disapproval instead of God’s. We want to impress others and have them think (or speak) highly of us; perhaps we want to come across as someone devoted, generous, humble or something like that, as in the case of Ananias and his wife Sapphira who feigned devotion (wholeheartedness) by lying about the price at which they sold their land. Or perhaps we are afraid of what others might think of us (say or do to us) if they find out the whole truth about us, and so we tell lies or deny the truth, like Peter did when he denied Jesus thrice even with swearing and cursing. Rather than telling outright lies, we sometimes speak half-truth which can be as misleading as the former, like Abraham did twice when he connived with his wife Sarah to say that she was just his sister (Gen 12:10-20; 20:1-end). All that ought not to be so.
Now some may argue that there is nothing wrong with what Abraham did, after all God didn’t rebuke him for it. Well, there is no clear record in Scripture that Abraham was rebuked by God for what he did. As a matter of fact, it was the kings (Pharaoh and Abimelech) that were dealt with and rebuked by God for seeking to take Abraham’s wife (Sarah) about whom they were misinformed that she was just his sister. But I suppose that God, the righteous Judge of all the earth, couldn’t have sanctioned this act of deliberate misinformation carried out by Abraham and Sarah, an act that could have led those kings to sin against Him (to commit adultery) if He hadn’t shown them the truth that Sarah was his wife. What about the case of Moses when God sent him to Pharaoh with this instruction, “Let us go three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God,” when actually they wanted to leave Egypt permanently to the promised land of Canaan (Exo 3:18)? And what about the case of Samuel whom God sent to Bethlehem, the town of Jesse, to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as king in place of Saul but instructed him to say, “I have come to sacrifice to the LORD” (1 Sam 16:1, 2)?
One thing is clear: God isn’t a liar and He can never lie. Neither will He encourage anyone to tell lies. But we know that “wisdom is profitable to direct.” The above instructions that He gave His prophets (Moses and Samuel) are not lies apparently, but are simply the use of tact to achieve some selfless, holy and noble purposes—to expose the wickedness and hard-heartedness of Pharaoh and thus showcase His almighty power, to embolden His servants the prophets, to bring about the deliverance of His people (the Israelites), to anoint His chosen one (David), to fulfill His good counsel, among others—unlike lie and falsehood which are usually practiced for some self-centered, carnal and ignoble reasons. So we see that what matters most before God is not just what we do but why we do what we do, not just our acts but the motives behind our acts. This is why Rahab the harlot was justified before God when she received the two spies sent by Joshua, hid them from those who sought to harm them, and sent them away safely, even though she had to lie in the process (Josh 2; Jas 2:25).
Some (including professing Christians) love to tell lies, lead fake lives and practice falsehood, just in a bid to impress others, get into their good book, or curry their favor perhaps in business or some other areas of life. Such people see nothing wrong in telling lies; they usually try to justify their lies; and they don’t believe that it’s possible for anyone to live without telling lies. While some others, deep down, desire to lead a life of utter truthfulness and freedom from every form of falsehood in their lives. The former category apparently is yet to be regenerated and needs to repent. But to the latter I would say in Jesus’ Name: You can be free. The key to freedom is faith in Jesus and the written Word of God. If we really believe the words of Jesus—as in Luke 16:15, “For what is highly esteemed among men (including the honor of men) is an abomination in the sight of God,” and as in Luke 12:4-5, “And I say to you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!”—if we truly believe all that, then we will seek to be completely faithful and true in all our dealings with men, even if that makes them displeased with us, resent us or persecute us. Then we won’t have to tell lies, pretend or do something wrong, just in a bid to impress or please people. And if we are free from the habit of telling lies, what need will there be for us to swear (except in the court of law perhaps)?
Moreover, let’s not be double-tongued, saying one thing to one person and something different to another. But rather seek to be transparent like glass, having nothing to hide. Let our “Yes” be “Yes,” and our “No,” “No,” as said earlier. “For whatever is more than these is from the evil one,” Jesus further states. As for me, my earnest desire is to be among the few chosen and faithful ones—the 144,000 standing with the Lamb on Mount Zion and having the Father’s name written on their foreheads, about whom it is said, “In their mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God” (Rev 14:5). How awesome it is to be in this holy company of Nathanaels, of whom Jesus once said, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (John 1:47). Besides, if you are the type that tells lies, it will be hard for any sensible person to trust you.
“Therefore, putting away lying,” Paul writes to the Ephesians, “let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another” (Eph. 4:25). Since we are members of one body, what affects one affects all either directly or otherwise. One member that tells “a little lie” may never realize the full impact of that lie not just on himself, but on the whole body of Christ. To the Corinthians Paul also writes, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:6). In other words, a seemingly little sin (actually, no sin is little) can corrupt the whole body. I suppose that’s why God had to get rid of conniving Ananias and Sapphira, so as to prevent their “little leaven” of “a little lie” from corrupting the church. Let’s therefore purge ourselves from the old leaven of lying, pretense, deceit and all wickedness; and live each day of our lives with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (1 Cor. 5:7-8). Let’s gird our waist with the belt of truth—with every other piece of God's armor, mentioned in the last chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, in its proper place—so that we may be able to resist the Devil aka “a liar and the father of lies,” and having done all, to stand as overcomers. And remember these true and faithful words of God given to John in the vision that he had on the Island of Patmos:
He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and ALL LIARS shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. (Rev 21:7-8)
Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie. (Rev 22:14-15)
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Wrong Attitude 4: Revenge
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. (Matt 5:38-42)
“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” is one of the criminal laws given by God through Moses to the children of Israel, so as to ensure that justice and fairness are served in the land. Let’s briefly consider some contexts in which this law is recorded in the Old Testament. First is in Exodus 21: Here we are told that if a fight occurs and in the process a pregnant woman is hit so that she suffers miscarriage alone, then the offender has to pay whatever the woman’s husband demands in compensation as approved by the judges (vs 22). But if, in addition to miscarriage, the pregnant woman suffers some injury—perhaps an eye is injured or a tooth gets knocked out or some other injury is incurred—then the same injury must be inflicted on the offender, “eye for eye, tooth for tooth...” (vs 23-25). The same rule is repeated in Leviticus 24:19-20, when dealing with a man that causes disfigurement of his neighbor; and in Deuteronomy 19:15-21, when dealing with a false witness that intends harm for his neighbor.
But Jesus came and changed the whole narrative. He came to show the world a far better way of life than what’s obtainable under the Law. “An eye for an eye,” they say, “will make the whole world go blind.” Jesus has come with the message of mercy rather than judgment, the message of forgiveness instead of vengeance. He taught us not to resist an evil person. He further said, “Whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” What does that mean? Are we to take that literally? Should we, on the basis of that passage, become a kind of doormat that everyone wipes their feet/shoes against, or a dummy that everyone takes undue advantage of? Of course, not! Christianity isn’t synonymous with stupidity. When Jesus Himself was slapped by an officer because of the way He had answered the high priest, He didn’t say, “See my other cheek, slap it!” but rather He said, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike me?” (John 18:19-23). So we see that “turning the other cheek” isn’t something to be taken literally, as in many other teachings of Jesus. Neither is it a call to become a doormat or dummy, but rather a call to tolerance and forgiveness. In other words, as disciples of Jesus, we must be willing to tolerate insults, injuries, losses and sufferings that may come our way in the journey of life and our walk of faith, and also be willing to forgive the perpetrators rather than seeking to retaliate or revenge.
Hebrews 12:24 tells us that the blood of Jesus speaks better things than that of Abel. In what way? When Cain murdered his brother Abel out of envy, it’s recorded that his blood cried out to God apparently for justice/vengeance (Gen 4:10). That’s the way it was with Old Testament saints and prophets, generally. When they suffered (especially unjustly) in the hands of men, they usually sought justice and prayed for vengeance upon those responsible for their sufferings. Some of their prayers for justice and petitions for vengeance are recorded in the book of Psalm; and many Christians of today love to pray those kinds of prayers. Concerning this matter, some believers and churches have gone so overboard that almost all their prayers revolve around their enemies, which in most cases are imaginary enemies. Such folks usually imagine that some witches or wizards or some other persons—perhaps in their fathers’ or mothers’ households—are the ones responsible for their poverty, sicknesses, barrenness, delays, etcetera; and so they often pray that their enemies would “fall down and die by fire,” or that some misfortunes would befall them. And they do support their actions with scriptures, particularly Old Testament, such as: “Suffer not the witch to live.” Some may argue that their prayers are not targeted at those evil people, but at the evil spirits in them. Yet they rejoice and even testify publicly when they hear that some misfortune has befallen those people (their enemies). I wonder what kind of “God” such folks pray to! What kind of “God” answers such un-Christlike prayers! It’s certainly not the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is full of mercy and compassion.
Now consider Jesus whose blood speaks better things than that of Abel: When His blood fell to the ground from Calvary's cross, it also cried out to God the Father not for vengeance nor even for justice, but for mercy and forgiveness (Luke 23:34). Dear reader, the Christian has been called to follow not Moses, Elijah or other Old Testament prophets who sought justice and vengeance on their human enemies, but Jesus the Son of God, “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet 2:22-23).
I’m not saying that there are no lessons for us to learn from Old Testament saints, neither am I insinuating that Old Testament scriptures are no longer relevant or applicable to us (Christians). Of course, all the things that happened to Old Testament characters are documented for our use and are meant to serve as examples for us, just as Paul explains in the tenth chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians where he describes the wilderness experience of the Israelites and how it applies to Christians. “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come,” he writes (1 Cor. 10:11). In his second epistle to Timothy he also says, “ALL Scripture (Old Testament inclusive) is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…” (2 Tim 3:16). So it’s very clear that the Old Testament is still very relevant, applicable and useful to us. But the point is: Jesus is our supreme Example and Model, the One whom we must follow in everything. Every doctrine, every practice, and everything else must be checked with His life and teachings. And if we come across anything that is not in alignment with His, such as seeking vengeance on or praying against human enemies, we will do well to discard such things even if they seem good, acceptable, popular or justifiable before men. Remember the words of Jesus to His disciples (the sons of Zebedee) when they sought to take revenge and call down fire from heaven on the Samaritans, like Elijah did, for rejecting the Lord:
You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them. (Luke 9:55-56)
Furthermore, the fact that we are commanded to “turn the other cheek” and “let go of our clothes or possessions taken away forcefully” and “go the extra mile” and in short “not resist an evil person,” this fact doesn’t exonerate the evil person from divine judgment. For instance, the fact that Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of those who persecuted and crucified Him, didn’t prevent God’s judgment from coming upon the Jews (as Jesus foretold in Luke 19:42-44). That prophecy was fulfilled around 70 A.D., when the Roman army invaded the land of the Jews, destroyed their houses including their magnificent temple in Jerusalem, killed many of them and took the rest captives. For God is a God of justice and vengeance who will not acquit the wicked and the guilty, unless they repent. Just as the Scripture says:
Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “Therefore if your enemy hungers, feed him; if he thirsts, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom 12:19-21)
Therefore, like Jesus, we ought to look with pity on our enemies and those who try to harm us, knowing that they are still under the judgment of God. Let the love of Christ constrain us to be good to them at every given opportunity. “Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away,” says Jesus, even if that person involved seems to be an enemy, inasmuch as it’s within our power to help him/her. “Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back,” we read in the parallel passage in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 6:30). What a way to live whereby we no longer try to enforce our rights! As believers in Christ, if we have a matter of complaint against a person—perhaps the person cheats us or takes away what belongs to us or whatever the case may be—we are expected to find a way to settle the matter amicably. In fact, we should be willing to give up our rights for the sake of Christ and the gospel rather than trying to enforce them even to the point of dragging people to court (like those Corinthians considered in part one), thereby giving them a reason to reproach the precious Name of Christ. Unbelievers may try to drag us to court over one thing or the other and we may have to go there, if need be. But that shouldn’t be our attitude toward them let alone toward one another.
Let’s allow mercy to prevail over justice (and judgment) in all our dealings with others, so that God may do the same in all His dealings with us, just as James says:
For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (Jas 2:13)
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Wrong Attitude 5: Hatred
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore, you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matt 5:43-48)
Hatred, I think, is the root from which bitterness, envy, anger, revenge, murder and the like, spring. Consider the first murder committed in human history, the murder of Abel not by an outsider but by his own blood brother Cain. What was the underlying thing in the heart of Cain that made him act so brutally against his own brother who had not wronged him in any way apparently? The answer is: HATRED. If Cain had not hated his brother—if he had loved Abel as himself—he wouldn’t have been bitter, envious and angry, when God “respected Abel and his offering but did not respect Cain and his offering” (Gen 4:4-5). But rather he would have rejoiced with him and sought to learn from him how he might offer an acceptable sacrifice to God. Cain allowed his bitterness to lead him further to kill his brother in cold blood, after having rejected God’s counsel to get rid of it (vs 6-7). This shows us that there is no measure of the degree of evil that a man who hates his brother/sister can do to them, if he gets the chance. John, “the Apostle of love,” puts it quite frankly when he writes:
Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (1 John 3:15)
But thanks be to God that Christ has come to lay the ax to this deadly root of hatred in the hearts of men. Under the old covenant the command is, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18). In other words, it’s okay to “hate your enemy,” as Jesus reveals in our opening text. Obviously there is no such command as “love your enemy” in the Old Testament. Why is that? Because, in that era, no one could keep such a command. Back then the heart of man was closed like a cup turned upside down, and so the Holy Spirit couldn’t fill anyone with the loving nature of God as in this new covenant age. Then the best people could receive from God was the coming of the Spirit UPON them to accomplish some tasks, but they couldn’t receive His INDWELLING, sanctifying presence because the Son of God had not yet come and had not yet been glorified (as we saw earlier in part one). And we see this fact even in the best of Old Testament saints such as David and the prophets. David, for instance, who had earlier displayed such a loving and magnanimous attitude toward Shimei—a relative of Saul, an arc enemy of David, who cursed him maliciously and threw stones at him at the time when he fled from the presence of his son Absalom—instructed his son Solomon, who was to reign in his place, not to spare Shimei. “Bring his gray hair down to the grave with blood,” was the instruction David, on his death bed, gave Solomon concerning Shimei (1 Kings 2:8-9). That unloving, vengeful spirit was quite typical of the Jews not only in their dealings with Gentiles, but even in their dealings with one another. Unfortunately, that’s also the kind of spirit found in many professing Christians of today, as evident in their speech and conduct (including their prayers).
We need to understand that Christ has come, having been crucified and glorified, to turn the heart of every believer right-side-up, so that the Holy Spirit may come and fill it to overflow with the loving nature of God. Now we (believers in Christ) can (and should) love all people, including our enemies, “because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom 5:5). And this “love of God,” agape love described in the pages of the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) has some qualities. One chief quality is that it does good to everyone always. It never does evil to anyone, not even to the meanest of men. In nature, as in the shining of the sun and the falling of rain on the just and the unjust alike, we see an expression of agape love. Nevertheless, for us who believe in Christ, the supreme expression of God’s love is not found in nature but in the giving of the only begotten Son of God for us, while we were still sinners and enemies of God, just as Paul writes to the Romans:
For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Rom 5:6-10)
Dear reader, if indeed we have known something of God’s love demonstrated toward us in the life of Jesus and His excruciating death on the cross for us—not while we were righteous and friends of God but while we were still sinners and enemies of God—then loving our enemies, as Jesus commands, won’t be such an uphill, impossible task for us. Then we will no longer give excuses not to love others such as, “You don’t know how badly he hurt me!” or “You are not in my shoes!” or the like. But rather we will wholeheartedly seek to obey Jesus our Leader, who not only commands, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,” but also gives us an Example in Himself to follow. I’m convinced that all the things that any of us might have suffered, and may ever suffer, in the hands of sinful men can never measure up to what Jesus Himself suffered during His earthly life, perhaps not even up to ten percent of it. So what excuse do we have for not loving our enemies? “How can I ever be like Jesus?” you may say, “He was completely perfect, pure and sinless, but I’m not!” Hear what the book of Hebrews says:
Therefore, in ALL THINGS He (Jesus) had to be made like His brethren (the believers), that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted. (Heb. 2:17-18)
In other words, Jesus had to become like us in everything, so that we may become like Him in everything. He suffered and endured so much hostility from sinners, way beyond we can ever imagine and beyond any of us can ever suffer, that we may find encouragement in Him when we also suffer. I love the Amplified Bible paraphrase of Hebrews 12:3. Here is it:
Just think of Him Who endured from sinners such grievous opposition and bitter hostility against Himself [reckon up and consider it all in comparison with your trials], so that you may not grow weary or exhausted, losing heart and relaxing and fainting in your minds.
Like Jesus, we also can choose to respond with love and goodness to ALL PEOPLE, including the most unlovable and the meanest among the children of men, even if our feelings say otherwise. Divine love is beyond mere feelings (emotions) which are fickle and deceptive. It’s a choice. If we choose to love, our feelings will follow suit with time. But if we decide to love only those who love us and to be good (and nice) only to our friends (and those who are nice to us), how are we different from anyone else? Even unbelievers and atheists do the same. How do we demonstrate that we are a different, unique breed of people? How do we prove that we are legitimate sons and daughters of God who is good to both the just and the unjust, God who is perfect in love and goodness and mercy? It’s by showing love and goodness to everyone, including our enemies and those who hate and persecute us. We are to do good and lend a helping hand to all, “hoping for nothing in return,” no strings attached, not even expecting a “thank you” (Luke 6:35). This is the highest level we can attain in our spiritual education, our Christian faith: to love everyone the way God loves them. We see that in dozens of scriptures including this:
But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. (2 Pet 1:5-7)
Our love for God will surely translate to love for people. Otherwise, our love is only a sham, just as the Bible makes plain (see 1 John 4:20, 21). We must understand that hatred can’t overcome hatred. Love alone conquers hatred, like light dispels darkness. Indeed love conquers all. The love of God that others see in us is one thing that can melt their cold, hard hearts and bring them to repentance and faith in Christ. John Wesley once wrote, quoting some lines of his brother’s (Charles’) hymn:
Love can bow down the stubborn neck,
The stone to flesh convert;
Soften, and melt, and pierce,
And break an adamantine heart.
And so, let’s not say, “All that sounds cool and nice, but is it really possible? It’s easier said than done!” But rather trust God to help us to love even the unlovable and to do good even to the unthankful, to be made perfect in love and mercy, just as He is.
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Wrong Attitude 6: Seeking the Honor of Men
Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. (Matt 6:1-4)
The desire to be “seen by men”—to be recognized, honored and praised by people—is one major desire of the flesh that is deeply rooted in all human beings, regardless of age, sex, race, skin color, culture, background, religion or any other feature. There is this desire in everyone to promote self and show off, to say something like this either verbally or otherwise, “See! What a great person I am! Look what I’ve done!” For instance, a child who takes the first position in his class would naturally want to tell everyone about it, so as to be seen as someone intelligent or smart. Likewise, a parent whose children are smart or well-behaved would want everyone to know about it, in hope that others might give them some credit for their smartness or good behavior, rather than seeking to give ALL the credit and glory to God.
Religious folks who give alms are not left out either. There is a tendency for such folks to want to “sound a trumpet” and call attention to their alms-giving and charitable deeds. It’s this unholy desire to promote (exalt) self that corrupts the good deeds that people do, and make them unacceptable (like filthy rags) before God. It’s like giving someone a beautiful apple with a hand infected with leprosy. But, as Christians, our duty is to crucify this carnal desire of wanting to be “seen by men,” if we are to please God and be rewarded by Him for our good works. Our acts of charity and our giving done by our right hand shouldn’t even be known by our left hand, just as Jesus says. In other words, our giving should be concealed from others, including our families and those who are close to us as the left hand is close to the right hand, as much as possible. This is why I’m not in support of some practices found in many Christian circles today, such as asking people to raise their “offerings” in meetings or “send their offerings on errand” like they do in shrines, telling people to come out and give certain amount of money to “tap into the anointing” (or something like that) as though one were in an auction house or a marketplace, publicizing so-called charity works, etc. I think such practices are an affront to the finished work of Christ on the cross and a disregard to His teaching on secret and selfless giving.
Giving is meant to be done in secret and love should be the motive/motivation, not the desire for some selfish gains or the fear of being punished. This is why Jesus and His apostles neither practiced tithing nor taught the disciples to tithe. Tithing is an old-covenant practice which God commanded the Jews in order to create an avenue to take care of the Levites, who had no inheritance in the land, and the less privileged including widows, orphans and strangers. Besides, God not only commanded the Jews to tithe, but also instructed them on how they should tithe (Deut 14:22-29). But nowadays, Christendom is littered with too many covetous preachers who cherry-pick old covenant precepts—such as tithing, first-fruits, etc.—and also sideline the instructions given concerning these precepts. How such preachers love to quote Malachi 3, in order to cower people into paying tithes and swindle them of their hard-earned money! Such preachers, as well as their followers, seem oblivious of the fact that what God requires of His children in this new-covenant age is not fear-motivated, coerced and transactional obedience (as in tithing), but loved-motivated, cheerful and unconditional obedience (as in voluntary giving).
In Hebrews 10:5, we are told that what God desires primarily (in this new covenant age) is not sacrifices and offerings (as in the old covenant), but a body. In other words, what God wants first of all (what pleases Him most) is not tithes and offerings, neither is it offering one form of service or the other, but presenting our individual body (every single part of it) as a living and holy sacrifice to Him (also see Romans 12:1). This was how Jesus lived His life when He was on earth: He employed His eyes, tongue and every other part of His body, to do the will of God the Father always, never to do His own will. And that’s exactly what’s expected of us, His younger brothers and sisters. Those who have truly given their bodies to God will need no preacher to coerce or coax them to pay tithes, but rather they will gladly give God even more than ten percent of their income, like the Macedonian Christians whom Paul commended in his second letter to the Corinthians (see 2 Cor. 8:1-5). Such Christians consider ALL (100%, not just 10%) that they have as God’s. And their giving is usually done in the right way and with the right attitude (selflessly, secretly and without keeping records). They are “the sheep on the right hand” described by Jesus in Matthew 25:34-40, who are not always conscious of their good works, unlike “the workers of iniquity” described by Him in Matthew 7:22-23. Let’s therefore give our bodies completely to God first, as instruments of righteousness, to obey Him and to do whatever He commands us. Remember, “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams,” in the words of Samuel the prophet to Saul the king (1 Sam 15:22). Enough said!
Jesus further says:
And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. But when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore, do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. (Matt 6:4-8)
Here again, as in secret giving, Jesus commands that the disciple should pray in secret and not to be “seen by men.” Now that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to pray in public. The point is: What is our motive (intention and attitude) when we pray either publicly or privately? Is it to be seen (recognized and honored) by people as some kind of “Praying Hyde” or something like that? Or is it to commune with our Heavenly Father, as though we were alone with Him in a room? If you are the type that often talks about the number of hours/days you spend in prayer, then it’s more than likely that you are still praying to be seen by people. If so, you shouldn’t expect any reward from God, since you already have it from men (their honor).
We are also taught not to use “vain repetitions” when we pray, like pagans do. False religions teach their followers to repeat some lines while praying, thinking and/or believing that that’s the way their prayers will get answered. Unfortunately, many professing Christians have the same kind of mindset. That’s why such believers keep shouting and repeating the same word or phrase when praying, as though God were deaf and wouldn’t hear them if they said it once. Such Christians may shout “the name of Jesus” three times, “Holy Ghost fire” seven times, or the like, before they babble on and on! As disciples of Jesus, we are not to use vain repetitions when praying, being conscious of the fact that our Heavenly Father already knows our needs and what we want to pray for. Nevertheless, it’s not out of place to pray the same prayer over again when we feel burdened or when there is a need to, like Jesus Himself once did in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night that He was betrayed.
Having shown the disciples how NOT to pray, Jesus then showed them how to pray. He said,
In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. (Matt 6:9-13)
Now we need to understand that the above prayer is meant to be a model to guide us when we pray, and not some sort of formula that should be repeated meaninglessly each time we pray like some do today. In this prayer model we see six requests (petitions). The first three requests deal with God: the honor of His Name, the coming of His Kingdom, and the execution of His Will on earth, just as it is in Heaven. And the last three deal with our needs, both physical and spiritual needs in the ratio 1:2 respectively, implying that the spiritual is more important than the physical. The physical includes the supply of “our daily bread (not weekly/monthly/yearly cake),” which applies to not only food but also other bodily necessities (not luxuries) e.g. clothing, shelter, etc.; the spiritual includes the forgiveness of “our debts (our sins)” which is conditioned on our forgiving others their sins and trespasses, and deliverance from temptations and the wiles of the evil one (the Devil). Then the prayer ends with an expression of praise to God, “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever,” and an affirmation that our petitions have been heard and answered by Him—implied by the word “Amen,” meaning, “So be it!”
The first three petitions show us that our lives should be centered in God and not in ourselves. That is, we should live to please God and not ourselves or other people. And the last three teach us that we should be concerned about not only our own needs, but also the needs of others, especially our fellow believers (members of God’s family). It’s interesting to note that the words I, me, my and mine, never occur in the prayer model. This is meant to lead us to a life of freedom from our self-centered, egocentric nature. For more understanding of how to pray correctly and effectively, I would recommend to you one of the finest books that I’ve read on prayer titled, God-Centered Praying, by Zac Poonen. I’m sure that the book will bless you, as it has blessed me. The book, as well as many other useful and edifying materials, can be downloaded freely on the church’s website: cfcindia.com.
Jesus further emphasizes the fifth request dealing with the forgiveness of sins. He says:
For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matt 6:14-15)
What a word for this generation of Christians that seems so consumed with the spirit of bitterness and unforgiveness! We read on:
Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (Mt 6:16-18)
Here again, as in secret giving and praying, we are taught to fast in secret and not to be “seen by men.” When fasting we ought not to go around with a long face nor seek to give anyone an impression that we are fasting. But rather we ought to brush our teeth, take a bath or at least wash our face, comb our hair and look good, so that our fasting may be done before the face of God and not before people. In short, whether we fast, pray, give, or whatever we do, all should be done before God, to the glory and honor of His holy Name (see 1 Cor. 10:31). This is what true Christianity entails: a daily living before the face of God and seeking His glory and honor alone. Even when others try to give us some credit for something good they see in us or something good we did, we must be quick to give ALL the credit (and glory) to God, not necessarily in words but in our hearts. Like Jesus, our attitude should be, “I am nothing in myself and can do nothing on my own. Whatever good you see in me and whatever good I do, I owe it all to God.” We are to “sanctify the Lord God in [our] hearts,” as Peter writes; or “set Christ apart as holy [and acknowledge Him] as Lord” in our hearts and in all our ways, as the Amplified Bible puts it (1 Pet 3:15).
Besides, if we still seek the honor of men (and of this world), it will be difficult—if not impossible—for us to have genuine faith, just as Jesus once told the unbelieving Jews of His day, “How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44). “But without faith it is impossible to please Him (God),” we are told in Hebrews 11:6. Dear reader, as long as you still seek the honor of men or seek to be a men-pleaser, you can’t have genuine faith and thus you can’t please God. Neither can you be a true servant of Jesus Christ, as Paul writes to the Galatians, “Obviously, I’m not trying to be a people pleaser! No, I am trying to please God. If I were still trying to please people, I would not be Christ’s servant” (Gal 1:10, NLT).
Friend, whatever we do to please or impress people rather than God, is actually “dead work.” Such work is worthless in God's sight regardless of how great or impressive it seems to be in the eyes of men. It’s worth nothing but “wood, hay, straw,” which will all be burnt up in the final Day (see 1 Cor. 3:12-15). Thus the need for our heart (and conscience) to be cleansed from dead works by the blood of Christ, so that we may build with “gold, silver, precious stones,” which will endure the test of fire in that Day; that we may serve the living God in an acceptable manner (Heb. 9:14).
Let me conclude this subsection with these lovely words of Paul to the Colossians:
And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. (Col 3:23-24)
May God help us to see everything we do—giving to the needy, praying, fasting, preaching, teaching in a school, securing lives and properties, attending to patients in a hospital, caring for children at home, working on a construction site, cleaning an office building, eating, drinking, and everything else (both great and little things, both spiritual and mundane things)—as a service to the Lord and not to men. This way, we will look not to people but to God for reward. As a matter of fact, people can’t give us full reward for our good works. Our earnings, no matter how much or how little (it makes no difference), are a mere token of our reward. Only God has the capacity to give us our full reward. Therefore, in everything we do and whatever may be our calling (ministry or profession), let’s learn to see ourselves as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ and of the Most High God, commissioned and sent into the world not just to make money or any such things but rather to bless the world and add value to it. Our calling is to serve and work not for money nor even for people but for the living God.
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Wrong Attitude 7: The Love of Money
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. (Matt 6:19-24)
Money (and material riches) has many benefits in this life. One is that it offers some degree of security and defense to people. In Ecclesiastes 7:12, we see that “money is a defense,” or “money can get you almost anything,” as the New Living Translation (NLT) puts it. In fact, we further read in the same book of Ecclesiastes, “Money answers everything” (Eccl 10:19). This is one verse of the Bible that has been misinterpreted and misapplied by many people, especially prosperity gospel adherents, usually to justify their love of money and of things that money can buy such as comfort, position, security, etc. Many seem not to understand the context in which money is said to answer everything, that is, the context of the material world. In other words, with money you can eat and drink anything you want, live anywhere you desire, travel to any part of the world at any time you wish, gain high position and prestige in the society, have security agencies at your beck and call, get anything your eyes/flesh crave including pretty girls, and so on.
Nevertheless, there are certain things even in the material world that money can’t get you such as life, just as the latter part of that Ecclesiastes passage affirms, “Wisdom or money can get you almost anything, but it’s important to know that only wisdom can save your life” (Eccl 7:12). If money could buy life, then the rich would live forever. Some imagine that money and material riches will give them happiness and satisfaction. They run after money and seek to lay up as much material things as possible, even by unrighteous means in some cases, hoping that they will find happiness and satisfaction thereby. They imagine that the more money one has, the happier and the more satisfied one will be. But the sad fact is: the more money a man possesses, the more he will crave for more money and the less satisfied he will be. That’s why the rich never seem to get enough, always seeking to make more and more money even at all costs. And, in the end, they seem not to find deep happiness and satisfaction. They’ve failed to learn from those who’ve gone ahead of them such as King Solomon who—though was the richest and wisest man of his time (and arguably of all times) and seemed to have it all—acknowledged eventually that “ALL is vanity and grasping for the wind” (Eccl 2:11, 26). They seem not to realize that “the blessing of the LORD makes one rich (not just materially but all-roundly), and He adds no sorrow with it” (Pro 10:22). And that “there is a God-shaped vacuum in every man which nothing (not even all the riches of this world) but God Himself can fill,” as Isaac Newton has succinctly stated. If we truly believe all that, we will desire the Giver Himself instead of His gifts, we will seek the Creator rather than His creations (some of which Satan has corrupted).
We don’t have to experiment, like Solomon did, before we come to realize that everything (outside of Christ) is vanity upon vanity, like chasing the wind or like catching bubbles which burst as soon as one lays hold of them. To realize that we only need to pay close attention to the sound teachings of the Bible, especially the teachings of Jesus and His apostles, as explained in the pages of the New Testament. In our opening text Jesus reveals the dangers of laying up treasures (riches) on earth, where they are subject to moth, rust, decay, depreciation, and robbery. Rather than laying up treasures on earth, we are exhorted to lay up treasures in Heaven, where they are completely secured against moth, rust, etc. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus also warns us against covetousness and greed for material riches. There He shows us the folly of a man who, in his avariciousness and selfishness, laid up treasures for himself on earth and was totally bankrupt in heavenly riches. See the Scripture:
And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:15-21)
Then He goes on to show us how to lay up treasures in Heaven, how to be rich toward God: through giving and sharing. He says:
Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves moneybags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:33-34)
Here is the cure to worldliness and earthly-mindedness: laying up treasures in Heaven. If you want your mind (and heart) to be set on things above and not on earthly things, then store your treasures in Heaven through giving and sharing what you have (whether little or much). “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” You don’t have to wait until you have much or make millionaires of money before you learn to give and share. As a matter of fact, those who find it difficult to share what little they have will usually find it difficult to share even if they have much. And don’t try to fool people that you want wealth or arm-twist God to give you wealth (as it were) so as to be able to help the poor, when deep down you want it for your own pleasure and comfort. If God has called you to be a giver or helper of the poor or do some work, you can be sure that He will provide all the resources needed for you to fulfill this calling; for He is almighty and self-sufficient and He loves and cares about people so much more than you do. Don’t try to pressure Him to do HIS work (not your work, remember); in any case, God can’t be pressurized to do what He doesn’t want to do.
We’ve got to learn to hold money and the things of this world loosely, with open palms, always ready to release them whenever there is a need or whenever God chooses to take them away from us (this will save us the pain of having these things wrung out of our hands). Don’t be like the rich young ruler who was so possessed with his earthly possessions that he went away from Jesus sorrowfully when he was challenged to release them to the poor, thereby laying up treasures for himself in Heaven. But rather be like the apostles who left (forsook) ALL to follow the Master when they heard His call. And you know what they got in return: a hundredfold of what they left (in spiritual terms) and eternal life, the life of God Himself (Matt 19:16-30).
Paul, in the sixth chapter of his first letter to Timothy, also warns us of the dangers of having an undue desire to be rich and of the love of money, and then shows us what attitude we should have toward money and earthly riches. He writes:
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness…Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. (1 Tim 6:6-19)
Oh, the need for this generation of believers to learn godliness with contentment, which is described as great gain! There is no limit to the depth of troubles and sorrows into which the love of money (and greed) can plunge a person, a church, a community, etc. Consider, for instance, the case of Achan the son of Carmi who, because of his greed, brought defeat and trouble upon the budding nation of Israel at the time when they had conquered Jericho and advanced to Ai. And you know his fatal end when he was fished out: he, along with his children and possessions, was destroyed (Josh 7). Gehazi is another example: he could have got double portion of Elisha’s anointing like Elisha got from Elijah but instead he, by reason of his greed, brought leprosy upon himself with his descendants (2 Kings 5:20-27). What about Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, who lost his calling and his place in God’s Kingdom and wound up in Hell, simply because of his covetousness and lack of contentment? Also many countries of the world (including Nigeria) have many problems and are underdeveloped due to the insatiable greed of some, especially the ruling class. There are so many examples, both in and outside the Bible, to deter us from growing this deadly root of all evils called the love of money.
Unlike many modern-day preachers—who double as motivational speakers and whose messages usually motivate people to pursue money, earthly riches and honor—the Lord Jesus and His apostles often warned people about the dangers of these things. Why? Is money an evil thing? Or is it wrong for believers to have earthly riches (mind you, earthly riches are not limited to material things e.g. cash, houses, lands, etc., but also include immaterial things e.g. wisdom, knowledge, skills, etc.)? Of course, there is nothing wrong in having these things even in abundance! You can have abundant material things and yet gain God’s approval like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etcetera, did. And you can have a brilliant mind—you can be a genius in mathematics, science, music, or some other field—and still please God like David, Daniel, Paul, etc., did. Some may argue that money is evil, quoting Luke 16:11 where Jesus described material wealth as “unrighteous mammon” or some other passages of Scripture. You see, the word “unrighteous” in that passage is a relative word, just like the word “evil” once used by Jesus to describe His disciples relative to God the Father (see Matt 7:11). That is, money and material riches are unrighteous, evil, abominable, and rubbish, relative to spiritual, heavenly riches found in Christ. So, in that sense, money can be described as “unrighteous” or “evil.”
We need to understand that money, in itself, is neither good nor bad. It’s like fire and electricity which, though are so good and useful to man, can pose severe dangers and wreak great havoc if uncontrolled or handled carelessly. So the issue isn’t money and earthly riches, but our attitude toward them. Are they on top of our heads, influencing and controlling us—including our moods, our choices of jobs, marriage partners, settlements, etc.—and puffing us up? Or are they underneath our feet, like the gold in the street of Heaven, subservient to us? That’s the test to determine whether or not we love money, whether or not mammon is our god. For us to have the right attitude toward money, we need to heed the dozens of warnings given in Scripture concerning the dangers of the love of money and of the things of this world. If such a godly man as Timothy—who was unarguably the best among Paul’s co-workers (see Phi 2:19-22)—needed to be warned about these things, how much more we!
Most believers are yet to realize how serious the love of money is. Though we may know and quote scriptures such as, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,” yet it has not dawned on many of us how serious the love of money is. And this fact is evident in our manner of life and conversation. Some of us may not even acknowledge the fact that we love money, but our lifestyle betrays us. “I don’t love money! Maybe I only like it…” some may try to rationalize. But do you love and esteem the things that money can buy such as comfort, position, prestige, etc.? Are you obsessed with these things? Your honest answers to those questions will show you the state of your heart, whether or not you love money. If only we take time to prayerfully study and think about that passage in 1 Timothy 6 and other similar passages of Scripture, and truly believe what’s written there, then we will never again take the love of money lightly. The love of money is so serious and deadly, like idolatry and sexual immorality, that we are charged to “FLEE” from it. (If you want to know how serious idolatry and sexual immorality are, consider the grave punishment meted out to those guilty of them under the law, that is, death penalty by stoning.) In fact, Ephesians 5:5 tells us plainly that a covetous man, a man who is greedy for money and the things of this world, is an idolater. And so, we will do well to heed the Word of God and run away from the love of money, knowing that we can’t take material things along with us when leaving this world. Naked and empty we came into the world, and so also shall we leave the world. Instead of money we are to pursue righteousness and other heavenly virtues.
Furthermore, in that passage, those who are rich in earthly things are commanded “not to be haughty, nor to trust in (set heart on) uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim 6:17). What a word not only for the rich in terms of money, but also for the rich in terms of knowledge and other intangible things! There we see that it’s God, not our own strength or wisdom or abilities, that gives us all things richly (abundantly) to enjoy, as we are also told in Deuteronomy 8:18. And the way we enjoy these free gifts of God isn’t by merely spending them lavishly (or selfishly) on ourselves with little or no concern for others, like that rich fool in the parable of Jesus (see how many times he used the words I and my), but rather by giving and sharing them with others (as explained in 1 Tim 6:18, 19). If indeed we recognize that all the things we have are given to us freely by God, and not just the products of our own hard work or smartness or any such things, then our palms will be wide opened to let go of these things whenever there is need. And if we really believe these truthful words of Jesus quoted by Paul in his valedictory message to the elders of the Ephesian church, then we will be more eager to give and share than to take and hoard:
“It is more blessed (happier) to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)
In our opening text we also notice that Jesus draws a connection between attitude toward material riches and spiritual vision. If we desire to have a clear spiritual vision and a life full of divine light and revelation, then we need a “good eye” (Matt 6:22). What does it mean to have a “good eye”? In part one, we considered, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt 5:8). So we see that it takes purity of heart for one’s eye to be good enough to see God. What eye is to the body, so is conscience to the heart (spirit) of man. In other words, if we have a good conscience, a conscience free from every dirt of unrighteousness and unfaithfulness in money matters, then our whole heart (spirit) will be full of God’s light and glory which will radiate to our soul and even our body. We must learn to be not only righteous in money matters, but also faithful therein. Being righteous involves earning our living by righteous means without stealing, cheating, cutting corners, or taking undue advantage of others in business. But beyond all that, we are to be faithful in money matters: this involves being responsible and careful about how we spend our money, as faithful stewards with a sense of accountability to God who actually owns everything we have; it involves being frugal and avoiding wastage, unnecessary expenditures, exorbitant lifestyle, etc. Only those who are faithful in money matters are promised true riches, which include spiritual vision, divine insight and revelations, anointing of the Holy Spirit to serve God effectively, and so on (Luke 16:11).
Dear friend, if your eye (conscience) is good and clear, then your whole life will be full of divine light. But if not, your life will be full of spiritual darkness, and thus you will be unable to see (perceive and understand) the spiritual things of God. Worse still, some of us may have become so accustomed to darkness that we imagine we have light, perhaps because of our impressive head knowledge of the Bible or some other religious credentials we possess. If such is your case, how great is that darkness in which you are! Nevertheless, you don’t have to remain in that miserable state of spiritual darkness. If you humble yourself and repent, if you have a change of mind and pursue a right attitude towards money (and earthly riches), if you seek to keep a good conscience before God and people (to be righteous and faithful especially in money matters), then your whole life will become flooded with the light of the glory and revelation of God and you will no longer walk in the darkness of spiritual ignorance and oppression.
Like Elijah challenged the Israelites on Mount Carmel, I also want to challenge you: How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord Jesus is the true God, love Him, follow Him, live for Him and serve Him alone! But if money, then love it, pursue it, live for it and serve it! “No one can serve two masters,” we are clearly told, “for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (the spirit behind money and material riches)” (Matt 6:24). So you see that there is no middle ground, no sitting on the fence. You are either here or there. It’s either you love Mammon and devote your whole life to the pursuit of it; or you love God and devote your whole life to Him (and His service). The former choice inevitably makes you a hater and despiser of God; while the latter naturally makes you a hater and despiser of Mammon.
May God help you and me to make the right choice today, even as our eyes are opened to see His indescribable glory, beauty and loveliness, to see Him as the only One who deserves our love, affection, devotion, adoration and ALL.
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Wrong Attitude 8: Worry
Therefore, I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore, do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matt 6:25-34)
The above passage begins with the word “therefore”—indicating that it’s connected to the previous verse(s), talking about the love of money. Now when we are warned against the love of money, one thing that will most likely pop up in our heads is something like this, “How can one not love money which is so essential in this life? If I don’t make money, how can I take care of my needs as well as the needs of others around me? If I no get money, wetin I gain…” As established earlier, money is a good and useful thing to have as a servant, but a dangerous thing to have as a master, just like fire or electricity. We all know how important money is for survival on this earth. We need money to buy food and clothes, to pay house rent (if we can’t afford to build a house) and utility bills, to provide for the basic needs of our children including education, among other things. With all these loads of responsibilities upon one’s shoulders, it’s quite easy for one to begin to “take thought,” worry, become anxious or even depressed, and thereby become a lover and a slave of money. But it doesn’t have to be that way for the believer in Christ who has a loving Father in Heaven, such a Father who loves and cares deeply for His own children and who is more than able to supply all their needs.
In our opening text the disciples are commanded to “take no thought” for their life (according to the old King James Version). That seems to mean more than being worried or anxious. Sadly, most believers not only take thought, but are often worried, anxious or even depressed, just because of what to eat, what to drink, what to wear, how to pay rents and bills, how to find a spouse, and other necessities of life. Some are even worried and anxious about luxuries of life, about how they can have much more than they really need, not so as to be able to help those in need but to live largely and lavishly. Mind you, what one considers a necessity may not necessarily be so for another. For instance, as necessary as marriage is for man, Jesus and Paul didn’t consider it a necessity for themselves. Our definition of necessity varies, depending on certain factors such as our individual callings and levels of faith, spiritual understanding and maturity. We need God to show us what’s really necessary (needful) for each of us. That way, we will never go wrong nor miss His will which is good, perfect and pleasing.
Hear what Jesus says: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” (Matt 6:25). Here we see a simple lesson of faith, that is, an absolute trust in God’s wisdom, power and love. We see that God, the Source and Giver of life, is surely able to give us food to sustain this life. And the same God who cared enough to give us a body to house our invisible soul and spirit will definitely provide us with clothes to cover this body. Supposing you have a very rich father (say a multi-billionaire), rich and generous enough to buy you a brand new car (which costs millionaires of naira), will it not be absurd for you to begin to worry about how to get fuel (which costs less than #200 per liter) for the car? Will you not rather tell your father about it, knowing that he will be both willing and able to provide you with some means of fueling the car throughout its lifespan?
The point is: Just as a car costs much more than a few liters of fuel, so also is life much more valuable than food and the body than clothing. And so, the One who gave us life and a body will surely sustain and take care of us. Besides, the purpose of a car is beyond just fueling it; the fuel is meant to enable the car to take you wherever you wish to go. Likewise, the essence of life is far beyond mere eating, drinking, wearing clothes and shoes, building houses, getting married, etcetera; all these things are meant to enable us to reach the place that God has predestined for us, not just Heaven but the place of perfect conformity to the image and likeness of His Firstborn Jesus (Rom 8:29).
Moreover, we are taught to consider the birds of the air that neither sow nor reap nor engage in any money-making business, yet they don’t go starving, for God feeds them. Now if God so cares about tiny, little birds called sparrows (which cost very little amount of money) that not even one of them is forgotten before Him or falls to the ground without His knowledge, how much more will He take care of His own children—one of whom He values more than millions of sparrows and even more than all the birds and the things of this world, and for whom He gave His beloved Son (Matt 10:29-31; 16:26; Rom 8:32). So, why worry about food and other basic things of this life, as though worrying would provide these things? Worry can no more put food on your table than can it add one foot to your height! “Worry, like a rocking chair, will give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere,” Vance Havner has rightly said.
We are also taught to think about the beautiful flowers of the field that neither toil nor spin, that neither do fashion designing nor engage in any work, yet not even King Solomon (in all his glory, riches and splendor) was as beautifully dressed as one of these flowers. If God so clothes the flowers that are found in the field today and may not be there tomorrow, having dropped to the ground or been devoured by some animals or been removed by man for some use, how much more will He clothe the body of His own children (a body that houses an immortal soul)!
Again Jesus says: Do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” (Matt 6:31). And He goes on to emphasize why we shouldn’t worry: For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need these things (vs 32). If we worry about food, clothing, housing, and the things of this life which unbelievers also worry about, how shall we manifest that we are a different, unique breed of people? How shall we witness (testify) not only to unbelievers but to all creations (including principalities and powers in heavenly places), that we have an all-knowing, all-powerful and altogether-loving Father in Heaven who knows all the needs of His children and is both able and willing to supply them all? Rather than being preoccupied with these mundane things of life, we are told:
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matt 6:33)
Beloved, this should be the number one pursuit, or rather the only pursuit, of our lives: the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. And there is a guarantee that as we sincerely and wholehearted seek the Kingdom of God, “all THESE things”—including food, clothing, housing, and other necessities of life, NOT “all OTHER things” like many often misquote or misinterpret sometimes to justify their love of money and greed—are “added” to us without excessive struggle, without having to beg, and in a proportion deemed fit by God and safe for us. All these necessities of life are meant to be additions or supplements—as in food supplements which are meant to supplement the food we eat and not replace it—as we pursue the main thing, that is, the Kingdom of God.
The same God who feeds the birds of the air and clothes the flowers of the field—of which we are told that they don’t sow, reap, harvest, toil, spin, or in short engage in any money-making business/venture—is well able and keen to supply His own dear children with the “additions” that they truly need. This is not to say that God’s children shouldn’t do business or work. Of course, we must work as hard as we can, for God Himself works and so did His Son Jesus during His earthly life (John 5:17). But we must learn (like Jesus) to put God first, depend on Him alone, and see Him—rather than our hard work, smartness, ingenuity or any such things—as our Source, our Provider, our Sustainer and our Everything. As children of God and disciples of Jesus, our primary pursuit in life shouldn’t be our jobs, careers, studies, or even ministries, but rather the Kingdom of God which Paul defines as follows:
For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Rom 14:17, NLT)
And then, to wrap up His teaching on worry, Jesus says: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt 6:34). What a word, worth giving a serious consideration! Child of God, whether or not you have money in your pocket/bank account, don’t worry. Whether or not you have food stuff in the house, don’t worry. Whether or not you have paid your house rent, electricity bill, etc., don’t worry. Whether or not you have a job, don’t worry. Whether or not the economy of your country is favorable, don’t worry. Whether or not your health improves, don’t worry. Whatever the future may hold, whatever may be the prospects, Jesus says, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things.”
“Give your entire attention to what God is doing now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes,” as the Message Bible rendering says. Indeed it takes faith—a strong (great) faith in God’s utter faithfulness, unfailing love and unlimited power—for us to lead a carefree life (a life of inner rest) each day, as though there were no tomorrow and as though we had no challenges/difficulties at all. May we be filled with such spirit of faith, even as we pay heed to the infallible, reliable Word of God. For “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17).
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Wrong Attitude 9: Criticism
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me remove the speck from your eye;” and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces. (Matt 7:1-6)
This is one of the most popular phrases among today's Christians: "Judge not!" But many who quote it have not yet understood the context in which it’s written. Their understanding of "Judge not!" is biased, sentimental and unsound scripturally. It’s one major weapon in their arsenal that they often wield to defend themselves, especially when they are challenged to reason biblically or when some doctrine/practice of their revered pastor/bishop/G.O. is called to question. For instance, if one tries to scrutinize the popular “prosperity gospel” along with their peddlers under the searchlight of Scripture, believers of such gospel are quick to say, “Don’t judge!” rather than listening to the voice of sound reasoning. “Touch not my anointed!” they may further protest.
Now let us consider, with an unbiased and open mind, what the Lord seeks to teach us in our opening text. “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you”(Matt 7:1-2). Here we see one reason why we are told to “judge not,” because (for) we ourselves will be judged with the same measure or standard we use in judging others. For example, if you are a lover of money or the things of this world and you judge a brother of being worldly—perhaps because of the way he dresses or some other external factors—then you yourself are in danger of coming under divine judgment. Do you not know that the love of money and the things of this world is equivalent to worldliness, to friendship with the world and enmity with God who sees the heart of all? (Jas 4:4). Or if your heart is covered with pride and you judge a sister for leaving her head uncovered in a church meeting, then you are just a hypocrite (actor) described by Jesus when He says:
And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me remove the speck from your eye;” and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matt 7:3-5)
I once read about a woman with whom a marriage counselor shared the above scripture regarding her attitude toward her hubby. But the woman was quick to respond in this manner, “My husband has got not just a speck, but hundreds of planks in his eye!” That may seem humorous, but it’s quite typical of the human nature, to be critical toward others and to think that the problem or fault lies with them. We need to understand that having a critical, judgmental and unloving attitude toward others is like having a plank of wood in one’s eye! If we have that kind of attitude in us, our sense of vision and perception will be blocked. And thus, we will be unable to see and help our brother/sister deal with the “speck” or “plank” in their eye or whatever wrong we perceive in them. A critical and judgmental spirit is not of God, but of the Devil aka the Accuser of the brethren. This is one chief attribute of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, a holier-than-thou attitude that makes one condemn (despise or look down on) others based on their appearance primarily. As children of God, we need to rid ourselves completely of such attitude and learn (like Jesus) not to judge by “appearance, false evidence, or hearsay” (Isa 11:3, NLT). “Appearance is deceptive,” as the saying goes. And there is usually more than meets the eye in many situations. Besides, our calling is not to judge, condemn or backbite one another, but to love and serve one another. See what James writes to believers:
Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another? (Jas 4:11-12)
Paul, in his epistle to the Romans (having listed some lawless things in which people indulge), also says:
Therefore, you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?... You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols; do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” as it is written. (Rom 2:1-24)
That reminds me of what happened one day in a school office where I heard a man criticizing a member of his church for being so stingy and not generous with his wealth towards other members of the church. Then I couldn’t but think, “What’s this man saying? Are you yourself generous with what God has given you not just towards members of your little church but to those around you? Have you ever fed any hungry student in this school? Have you ever paid anyone’s school fees? Can any student or teacher say, ‘Because of this man I look forward to coming to school every day’? How many lives have you impacted in this school with what you have, though little?” Well, I’m not writing this to judge him but only to express my thoughts in view of the subject we are talking about. Even if you call this judgment, it’s a righteous judgment, as far as I know. There is an unrighteous type of judgment and there is a righteous type. The former is based on appearance or hearsay or human sentiments, as pointed out earlier; while the latter is based on truths (not mere facts) as revealed by the co-working of the Spirit and the Word of God, as prophesied concerning Jesus by Isaiah (see Isa 11:1-4). Also the former is destructive and motivated by hatred, envy or some other ill-feelings; while the latter is constructive and motivated by love with intent to help.
In John 7:24, we are commanded: Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment. But, sadly, many professing Christians often mistake these two types of judgment for each other. By all means, we must seek discernment and learn to exercise our spiritual senses to distinguish between righteous and unrighteous judgment, between “good and evil,” as the writer of the book of Hebrews declares (Heb. 5:14). Otherwise, we won’t be able to feed on “solid food (or meat)” of God’s Word, by which we can become strong and mature. Like the Pharisees accused Jesus of bearing (false) witness of Himself, some folks may also accuse us of judging unrighteously even when our judgment is righteous. And so, we shouldn’t be surprised or disturbed when such happens. Rather we should be able to answer such folks like our Lord answered the Pharisees:
You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. And yet if I do judge, my judgment is true (righteous); for I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent me. (John 8:15-16)
Inasmuch as we are standing on God’s side, having rid ourselves of the “plank” or anything that may obstruct our vision of His holiness and love, our judgment will also be righteous and true. Thus we will be able to help our brother/sister get rid of the “speck” or whatever that’s in their eye. We know that the eye is a very sensitive and delicate part of the body, requiring a lot of care when dealing with it, lest it be damaged. Likewise, we must take much care when dealing with a brother/sister who has erred from the path of truth or has been overtaken by some sin, lest they be offended and driven farther away from the Lord. We are to deal with such erring brethren in the spirit of humility and gentleness, knowing that we ourselves are subject to the same error or even worse sins. Paul puts it this way:
Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. (Gal 6:1)
There we see that the task of restoring an erring brother/sister is the prerogative of not everyone that goes by the name of “Christian,” but the spiritual Christian. If you are a carnal, earthly-minded Christian, then you had better first get rid of the “plank” of carnality and worldliness in your own eye before making any attempt to help another Christian get rid of some perceived “speck” in their eye. Otherwise, you might end up causing more damage to their eye. Besides, we need to make it a rule never to criticize or judge anyone whom we have never appreciated or commended before. That’s one thing we learn from Paul’s letters. He usually began his letter with greetings and appreciation of some good points in the recipient. He did that even when writing to the Corinthians whom he criticized for a good number of things. We too should learn to do so. Appreciation has been aptly described as the “whiteboard” on which the words of constructive criticism may be written clearly. Without this whiteboard criticizing a person is like writing on the thin air, and thus nothing can be read and the person will most likely take offense instead of accepting correction. Let’s not be stingy with appreciation and liberal when it comes to criticism.
However, it’s important to note that not everyone will be willing to accept your service when you sincerely seek to help restore them, even if you are the most spiritual Christian on earth. After all, not everyone was willing to receive the loving service of the Son of God Himself. In fact, the vast majority of the Jews was offended at Him and rejected Him (with His counsels) during His earthly life. And we shouldn’t expect any less rejection from the world and especially from worldly Christians; for “a disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master… If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!” (Matt 10:24-25). Trying to help such unwilling folks is like giving what is holy to the dogs or casting your pearls before pigs. What’s the result? They will trample those precious things, then turn around and attack you (Matt 7:6). And so, save yourself the stress and don’t waste your precious time and resources.
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In this part we’ve been able to discuss nine attitudes which are unbecoming of the new creation in Christ. Here is the summary.
1.Anger: This can either be carnal (unholy) or holy, unrighteous or righteous. Unholy anger is closely related to envy, bitterness, gossiping, backbiting, slander and all types of malicious behavior, and it has no justifiable reason. While holy anger is a God’s kind of anger which Jesus Himself sometimes displayed during His earthly life such as the time when He made a whip to drive out those who were doing business in the temple of God. We are to put away the former and imbibe the latter.
2.Sexual Immorality: We are taught that a man who looks lustfully at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Lust of the eyes (and of the flesh) is so serious in the sight of God that we are commanded to “pluck out our eye and throw it away” and “cut off our hand and cast it away,” rather than sinning with them. We also learn that divorce plus remarriage equals to adultery.
3.Falsehood: One thing that’s required of anyone who would abide in God’s presence is utter truthfulness, that is, freedom from every form of falsehood including blatant lies, half-truth, false impressions, flatteries, white lies, etc. We shouldn’t allow the love of men’s approval and honor, or the fear of men’s disapproval and frown, to hinder us from being truthful and speaking the truth always.
4.Revenge: Our calling, as Christians, is to follow not Moses, Elijah or other Old Testament saints who lived by the rule of “an eye for an eye,” though there are great lessons to learn from them, but Jesus “who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.”
5.Hatred: We are commanded to love not only our friends (and those who love us), even unbelievers and atheists do that, but also our enemies (and those who hate us). Thus we will prove ourselves to be true sons and daughters of God who makes His sun to rise on both the just and the unjust, and gives rain to both the righteous and the wicked. We are to be perfect in love and mercy, just as our Heavenly Father is.
6.Seeking the honor of men: Whether we give, pray, fast, or whatever we do, all should be done to the glory and honor of God. This is what true Christianity entails: a daily living before the face of God and seeking His glory and honor alone. Even when others try to give us some credit for something good they see in us or something good we did, we must be quick to give ALL the credit (and glory) to God, not necessarily in words but in our hearts.
7.The love of money: Like fire and electricity, money is a very good and useful thing to have as a servant, but a very dangerous thing to have as a master. It’s okay to make money as much as possible (by righteous means, of course), but we also need to heed the dozens of warnings given in Scripture concerning money and earthly riches. In fact, the love of money (and the things of this world) is so serious before God that He calls it “idolatry” and commands us to “FLEE” from it.
8.Worry: This has been aptly pictured as a rocking chair which will give you something to do, but won’t get you anywhere. We’ve been charged to consider the birds of the air and the flowers of the field that neither labor nor engage in any money-making business, yet are taken care of by God. If we make God’s Kingdom our utmost priority, He has promised to “add all these things”—including food, clothing, shelter and other necessities of life—to us.
9.Criticism: There is an unrighteous type of judgment (criticism) and there is a righteous type. The former is based on appearance, hearsay or human sentiments; while the latter is based on truths (not mere facts) as revealed by the co-working of the Spirit and the Word of God. Also the former is destructive and motivated by hatred, envy or some other ill-feelings; while the latter is constructive and motivated by love with intent to help. We should learn to discern one from the other. And we are to get rid of the former and cultivate the latter.
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CLOSING EXHORTATIONS AND WARNINGS
Having described some “terms and conditions” (promises and commands) of the new covenant in His sermon on the Mount—a covenant which promises spiritual and heavenly blessings primarily, as opposed to the old covenant whose blessings are physical and earthly essentially, and whose standards are clearly much higher than the standards of the Mosaic Law—those who heard Jesus must have wondered, “How can these things be? How can one possibly measure up to such high standards?” Perhaps you, my dear reader, have thoughts similar to that also. You may be wondering, “How realistic are these things? How can it be a blessed thing to be poor in spirit, to mourn, to be hungry and thirsty, to be persecuted for the sake of righteousness…? It’s such a great struggle for me to avoid fornication/adultery, how much more difficult to deal with lust! Sometimes I don’t even feel like loving my family and friends, how then can I love my enemies and those who seek to hurt me…?”
Well, I want you to understand that wherever and whenever the deeper truths of God are presented (preached) with accuracy and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, two things are involved, two responses are usually obtained. Either the audience becomes dissatisfied (displeased) with the preacher and accuses him of being unrealistic, fanatical, heretical, or something like that. Or they become dissatisfied with themselves for having come short of God’s high standards and expectations. Examples of the former response are found a number of times in the book of Acts, such as the time when Stephen addressed the Jerusalem council (the Sanhedrin) before which he was brought on the ground of false accusations. The Jews who heard Stephen that day became so displeased and angry with him towards the end of his heart-piercing sermon that “they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him” (Acts 7:57-58). That, of course, is a wrong kind of response. The latter is the kind of response expected of us, as in the response of those who heard Peter’s brief but heart-penetrating sermon on the Day of Pentecost, saying, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). We should allow the fiery message of the gospel to melt our hearts unto repentance like wax is melted by fire, rather than to harden us in our sins like clay is hardened by the same fire.
Now consider Peter’s reply to those Jews, “REPENT, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Having become dissatisfied with ourselves for our failure to measure up to God’s standards, what’s expected of us is not self-pity nor self-condemnation but repentance. The message of repentance, unfortunately, is scarcely proclaimed in Christendom today. Even some who seem to preach it are merely giving lip service to it. Repentance is one great theme of the New Testament declared not only to unbelievers (as some think) but also to believers, as in the messages given by Jesus through John to the churches of Asia Minor recorded in the book of Revelation chapters two and three. True repentance is not only about having a feeling of regret or sense of remorse for our past sins and shortcomings, but beyond that, it’s about making a U-turn from sin to God, it’s about having a change of mind and resolution to sin no more. And repentance must be accompanied with faith, a trust in God and a belief in His unchanging Word, such as the promise of forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit mentioned by Peter in the earlier passage. The two (repentance and faith) are inseparable, as we often see in the New Testament.
Prayer is one major way by which true repentance and faith find expression. The promise of salvation is to whoever repents, believes, and “calls on the name of the Lord” (Acts 2:21, 38-39). Calling on the Lord’s Name involves praying to God in the Name of Jesus and confessing the privileges (and rights) procured for us by the sacrificial and substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross. Paul also draws a parallel between faith and prayer when he writes:
But what does it say? “The word is near you, even in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes to righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls upon the name of the LORD shall be saved.” (Rom 10:8-13)
By now, I trust that you must have seen your deficiency in the beatitudes—attitudes becoming of the new creation in Christ—and your indulgence in the wrong attitudes. Having shown us the areas where we’ve sinned and come short of the glorious standards of God, Jesus is prompt to invite us to pray (an expression of a penitent and believing heart), as we see in the closing verses of His revolutionary sermon on the Mount. He also warns us using some illustrations: two gates and two ways, two types of tree, and two kinds of builder.
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The Prayer of Faith
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matt 7:7-12)
First, we want to try and understand what prayer is. For better understanding of this let’s see what prayer is not. Prayer isn’t just about asking and asking and asking. The above passage talks about asking and receiving, seeking and finding, knocking and opening of doors. Some other passages of Scripture also show us that prayer is far beyond mere asking. Many think of prayer as a means of getting things from God, as some kind of “shopping list” containing needs which are majorly material, earthly and self-centered. The prayers of many a believer are like this: “Lord, give me good food, clothes, money, houses, cars, better job offers, a well-to-do spouse, fruits of the womb, good health…” In essence what they are saying is, “Lord, make my life very easy, comfortable and happy.” Some may proceed to say something like this: “Let every enemy that is against my comfort, happiness, success, breakthrough and glory, fall down and die! Blah-blah-blah!” Their prayers are basically about how they can have a very easy and comfortable life, with a desire not to spare anyone that they suspect is trying to stand in their way and with little or no interest for the glory of God and the advancement of His work on earth. And such folks usually get discouraged quite easily when answers seem not to be forthcoming; or, on the other hand, they no longer have time and zeal to pray when they finally get answers to their earthly needs and wants.
Now there is nothing wrong in asking God for our material and bodily needs inasmuch as our lives are centered not in self but in God, just as Jesus Himself has shown us in the prayer model given to His disciples, aka “the Lord’s Prayer” (which we’ve already considered in part two). Needless to say, praying for the death of one’s enemies, or that some misfortune might befall them, is against the spirit (attitude) of Christ and a disregard for His teachings on love and forgiveness. Though there is no precise definition of prayer in the Bible, as far as I know, yet we know what it’s about from the overall teachings of Scripture (especially the New Testament). Prayer is meant to be a means of communion (fellowship) between God and man. It’s a two-way communication whereby we both speak and listen to what God has to tell us. It’s not only about speaking and asking, but also about listening and receiving. If we don’t learn to listen to God and receive instructions from Him, we will be deceiving ourselves to think that He will listen to us and that we will receive from Him.
Prayer has been classified into four categories of which petition (request, supplication) is but one and the least. The other three, in ascending order, are thanksgiving, praise, and worship. We can petition or ask God for anything, as Jesus has said (John 14:13-14), nevertheless we must not fail nor neglect to thank Him for what He has already done. And, beyond giving thanks for what God has done, we ought to praise Him for who He is, for His infinite wisdom, power, love, etc. And, beyond all that, we need to learn to worship God not just with “slow songs” as some think, but with our whole being which may not necessarily involve singing or even speaking. This is what God seeks first and foremost: true worshippers who would worship Him in spirit and truth, just as Jesus reveals (John 4:23). God seeks those who would truly present their bodies and everything within them to Him, as Paul writes to the Romans:
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, and beg you in view of [all] the mercies of God, to make a decisive dedication of your bodies [presenting all your members and faculties] as a living sacrifice, holy (devoted, consecrated) and well pleasing to God, which is your reasonable (rational, intelligent) service and spiritual worship. (Rom 12:1, AMP)
In our opening text we see three levels of the prayer of petition: asking, seeking, and knocking. If indeed our eyes have been opened to see the glory and beauty of the new covenant life described by Jesus in His sermon on the Mount, if indeed we have seen how far we are below the high standards of the new covenant and how impossible (not just difficult) it is for us to attain those standards on our own, we can’t but obey Jesus’ word of exhortation to pray. For instance, if I have the problem of anger and am unable to control my temper especially in moments of provocation, if I’ve truly realized how serious unholy anger is in God’s sight (so serious that Jesus likens it to murder) and how willing and able God is to help me deal with it, I will surely go to Him in prayer and “ask” for His help (grace) to overcome anger and to exercise self-control. But peradventure I’m unable to deal satisfactorily with my hotheadedness, even after asking for help, I must not be discouraged nor give up but rather take a step further to “seek” for more help perhaps with fasting to overcome anger. But supposing, after asking and seeking, I’m still not satisfied with the degree of victory I’ve experienced in this area of anger, I must go another step further to “knock” for more help perhaps along with some other like-minded believers if indeed I’m serious about getting complete victory over anger and about pleasing God.
This principle of importunate, persistent praying—asking, seeking, and knocking—applies, of course, not only to the issue of anger but to all matters concerning our Christian faith. There is a guarantee that “everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matt 7:8). In order to emphasize the need for people to persist in prayer and not give up, Jesus once told “the Parable of the Persistent Widow.” Let’s consider it.
Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Avenge me of my adversary.’ And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’” Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8)
The above passage shows us that the degree of our persistence in prayer is a measure of the degree of our faith in God. In other words, the more faith we have in God, the more we will persist and persevere in the place of prayer, and vice versa. Consider the attitude of that poor widow: how she persisted at the gate of the judge, asking him continually for justice against her adversary, apparently because she had no other means of getting justice. All her hope was built on the judge. She had nowhere else to turn to. Though that unjust judge was unwilling to help her for a while, yet because of her persistence he eventually listened and granted her petition. If so, how much more will the just and loving Father in Heaven answer, defend, protect and help His own elect (His chosen ones) whose hope is built on Him and who cry out ceaselessly to Him! Surely, He will listen to them speedily and silence their real enemy (the Devil), though sometimes He may seem to tarry (delay) in responding to their prayers.
Mind you, to “pray without ceasing” or “pray always,” as Scripture commands us, doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to stay awake and pray consciously around the clock (24/7). You would agree with me that that’s practically impossible for anyone to do in this world. Praying always (ceaselessly) simply means having a spirit of prayer—an attitude of communion with God—all the time, even when we are sleeping, just like we breathe at all times. It has been rightly said that what breathing is to the body, so is praying to the spirit. Hence a prayerless believer is a lifeless (dead) believer, just the way a breathless man is a dead man. Prayer is one litmus test of our spiritual vitality. We are to imbibe the spirit of prayer, an attitude of not only speaking but also listening to God, like the boy Samuel demonstrated when he said, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant listens” (1 Sam 3:10). We shouldn’t allow busyness and the things of this life to hinder us from listening to God and spending quality time with Him daily. We shouldn’t be in such a hurry as to neglect communing with God especially when we wake up in the morning and before retiring at night. Half an hour in conscious prayer and Bible study each day isn’t bad for a start. Gradually we will learn to spend and even enjoy more time alone with God. We must not live our lives as if God were peripheral. He is not! Actually, He is more important than the food we eat and even the air we breathe.
Moreover, we need to rest assured that God answers ALL (not only some nor even most) of the prayers of His own people, just as Jesus has promised His disciples:
And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it. (John 14:13-14)
If we are true disciples of Jesus, if we have truly forsaken all (to the best of our knowledge) and taken up the cross to follow Jesus, God will surely respond to us whenever we ask Him anything in Jesus’ Name—based on the merits and authority of Jesus and not merely using the phrase “in Jesus’ Name” when praying. Zac Poonen, describing his experience regarding praying in Jesus’ Name, says:
I remember how the Lord taught me this lesson when I was praying for some earthly need once. I said, “Lord, I have served you for so many years. So please do this for me.” The Lord said, “No, I won’t do it, if you come in your own name.” That day I understood what it means to pray in the name of Jesus. That day I realized that the new believer who was just converted, and I who had been converted in 1959, had both to come to God on exactly the same basis—in the merit of Jesus Christ alone. He has to come to the bank of heaven with a cheque signed by Jesus Christ. I too can come there only with a cheque signed by Jesus Christ. If I come to God saying that I have been faithful to Him for so many years, then I am coming to heaven’s bank with a cheque signed by me. And heaven’s bank will reject it. That’s the reason why many of our prayers are not answered. We are not going in Jesus’ name. We are going in our name. We think that because we have sacrificed so much for God, He should answer us. Even if we have lived faithfully for 70 years, when we come before the Lord, we can come only on the same basis as a new convert—in Jesus’ name.
Note that God responds to all our prayers according to His own will and set time, not according to ours (see 1 John 5:14). To some prayers He may say, “Yes!” and we have the answers speedily (immediately). To some others He may say, “Wait!” if the time is not yet right for us to have them. And to some others still He may say, “No!” if they are not in His perfect will for us. I guess everyone would gladly accept “Yes!” for an answer. But it takes a man (or woman) of faith to accept “Wait!” and especially “No!” for an answer, with joy and thankfulness, knowing that God’s will and time are perfect and the best.
Now concerning matters of which we are convinced by the written Word and the Spirit of God that they are His perfect will for us—such as the baptism and fullness of the Holy Spirit—we must not accept “No!” for an answer. However, regarding such matters, God may sometimes delay in answering us, not because He is unwilling (reluctant) or unable to answer us, but because He wants to test our faith in Him—like He tested the faith of Abraham when he had to wait for about 25 years before having a child through his wife Sarah, after God had called him and given him great promises, some of which were not even fulfilled during his lifetime but came to pass many years later—and because He wants us to develop patience. Faith and patience are inseparable like Siamese twins joined together at heart. The more faith we have, the more patient we will be and the less hasty we will be (and act); just as it’s written, “Whoever believes will not act hastily” (Isa 28:16). It’s only through faith and patience that we can inherit the promises of God (Heb 6:12). And unless patience has its perfect work in us, unless our patience is fully developed, we can’t be made perfect and complete, lacking nothing (Jas 1:2-4).
If we truly believe and trust God, we won’t give up on Him but rather we will wait patiently on Him until all His promises to us are fulfilled. Faith in God will make us persevere in our prayer to Him and our walk with Him, no matter what, like Abraham and many other saints of old did. Sadly, many believers don’t mind praying, fasting, going to mountain and running from pillar to post, in search of answers to their mundane needs and wants—such as lucrative jobs, contracts, visas, marriage, fruits of the womb, elimination of their supposed enemies, etc.—but they have little or no interest in seeking the far more important things of Heaven—such as the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome sinful attitudes (and habits) and to be an effective witness for the Lord Jesus. That’s misplaced, misguided setting of priorities, and it ought not to be so. For us to get our priorities straight and pray aright, we need to pay close attention to the teachings of Scripture, especially the teachings of Jesus and His apostles. Go through the New Testament to see whether your prayers have any resemblance with the prayers of Jesus and His apostles.
Besides “the Parable of the Persistent Widow,” Jesus also told His disciples another parable in the same Luke’s Gospel chapter eleven, to teach them of the need for persistence in prayer. When the disciples saw Him praying (in a manner that must have impressed them deeply), one of them said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1). So He answered them by first giving them the prayer model (vs 2-4). Then He told them the parable of one who went to his friend’s house at the middle of the night (an inconvenient time) asking for some loaves of bread to serve another friend of his who had come to him on a visit. Though his friend wouldn’t bother to rise and open the door to him in spite of their friendship, yet we see that because of his persistence in banging the door and asking for bread, he would surely rise and open the door and give him as many loaves as he needed (vs 5-8). Then Jesus said:
And I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him! (Luke 11:9-13)
This is a repetition of what He says in Matthew 7:7-11, with a little modification. Here we see that the best of earthly fathers are “evil” relative to our altogether good, gracious and loving Father in Heaven. As fathers (and mothers), are we willing and eager to give our children things that are needful and good for them, even without them having to ask us? Certainly, I suppose! Do we give our children stone instead of bread, snake rather than fish, scorpion instead of fried egg, or something useless/harmful that resembles what they need/request? I’m sure no parent will do that, unless perhaps something is wrong with him/her. If so, how much more will our Heavenly Father give good things to those who ask Him! God is more than able and willing to give us everything we need and even desire or want (see Psa. 37:4; John 15:7), both physical and spiritual things. But beyond all that, He seeks to give us the greatest Gift of all—the priceless Gift of Himself, the Holy Spirit—as written in the above passage (Luke 11:13). The key to unlock all these gifts is prayer, the prayer of faith, whereby we go to God holding Him to His Word.
Concerning the prayer of faith James writes: “And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (Jas 5:15). Then he goes on to say: “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed (physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually)” (vs 16). In addition to unbelief, this is another great hindrance to receiving answers to prayers: unforgiving and bitter attitude. We are taught that if we don’t forgive others their sins (and trespasses), God won’t forgive us ours as well (Matt 6:14-15). And so, if I have bitterness in my heart toward anyone, it’s of no use praying to God; for He won’t even listen to me let alone grant my petitions, as the psalmist says (Psa. 66:18). We are to be merciful (forgiving and kind) toward others, just as God has been toward us. And we are to treat others the way we ourselves want them to treat us, not necessarily the way they actually treat us, according to “the golden rule”—Jesus’ encapsulation of the entire Old Testament, “Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 7:12). This corresponds to the passage that says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39, 40).
It’s the “effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man (the man in right standing with God)” that “avails much (makes tremendous power available)” (Jas 5:16). Only righteous and faithful men (and women)—who have exchanged their weak, human nature for the extraordinary, divine nature—can accomplish much through prayer such as bringing down the rain of revival from Heaven, like Elijah brought down rain after three-and-a-half years of severe drought in the land of Israel (Jas 5:17-18). Only such men can “through faith subdue the kingdom of darkness and establish God’s Kingdom of light and righteousness in their lands, experience the realities of God’s promises in His Word, shut the mouths of the enemies of the gospel and of the cross of Christ, become valiant in spiritual warfare and put the Devil with his forces to flight, endure trials and tribulations that may come their way for the sake of Christ and the gospel, and do many exploits for the glory of God” (Heb. 11:32-40, paraphrase). Indeed there is no limit to what God can do for, with, in and through a man/woman of faith and prayer.
May you and I receive grace to be a man of faith-filled, prevailing prayer today.
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Two Gates and Two Ways
Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matt 7:13-14)
In the above passage the Lord Jesus talks about two types of gate—the narrow and the wide gate—and two types of way—the narrow and the broad way. Let’s first consider the gates. We know that gate is a door-like structure through which one can enter a building, compound or place. Likewise, for one to enter the Kingdom of Heaven there is a gate to pass through. And this gate, connoting forgiveness of sins through repentance and faith (which we’ve already discussed), is narrow. For the sake of emphasis, permit me to say a few more things about this essential two-in-one requirement for entering God’s Kingdom: repentance and faith.
William Booth (1829–1912), the founder of the Salvation Army, once said prophetically:
The chief danger of the twentieth century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, and Heaven without Hell.
Is that not what happened during the last century and still happens now, in this twenty-first century? “Forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration…” The so-called gospel preached by many today is one that seems to downplay the seriousness of sin, promising forgiveness of sins without genuine repentance, without a sincere turning away from sin to God. It’s a “gospel” that presents poverty and sickness as man’s major problem instead of sin, a “gospel” that showcases wealth and health as the real deal rather than freedom from sin. In a bid to get people to answer “the altar call” and “give their lives to Jesus,” it’s not uncommon to hear testimonies like this from peddlers of such gospel, wealth-cum-health gospel aka prosperity gospel, “Before I came to Christ, I was very poor. Then I had only one pair of old shoes and two changes of clothes. I had no apartment of my own and had to squat with some friends. I did menial jobs and lived practically from hand to mouth. I also battled with some serious illness… But now that I’m in Christ, my story has changed. God has blessed me so much that I’ve lost count of the amount of my wears. I have a fleet of cars, houses in various places and private jet(s). I have a number of establishments including secondary and tertiary institutions, and connections with many people in high places both home and abroad. I now have sound health and don’t even remember the last time I took medicine… Come to Jesus and he will change your story like he has changed mine…”
Sure enough many would troop forward in response to such invitations. After saying some prayers, they are then assured that they are “born again” and “children of God” and “on their way to Heaven.” Friend, if that’s the kind of gospel you’ve heard and received, I’m afraid that you’ve most likely entered through the broad gate that leads anywhere other than the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s “another gospel”! See what Paul writes to the Galatians:
I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. (Gal 1:6-9)
It’s a very serious offense for one to preach “another gospel,” as you can see from the above passage. The true gospel of Christ, as explained in the pages of the New Testament, is essentially a gospel of salvation from sin, a gospel of deliverance from the “3Ps” of sin: Penalty (guilt or condemnation) of sin, that is, Justification; Power (dominion) of sin, that is, Sanctification; and Presence of sin, that is, Glorification. The full gospel has made enough provisions to deal completely with our biggest problem, SIN, regarding our past (justification in the spirit), present (sanctification in the soul), and future (glorification in the body). But without true repentance and faith—acknowledgement and forsaking of all your sins, to the best of your knowledge, and trust in the Lamb of God who was crucified and raised from the dead to save you from your sins primarily and not merely to improve your living conditions—forgiveness and justification, let alone sanctification and glorification, will be alien to you. Come to think of this: Would Christ give up all His glories and rights as God to come into this evil world as an ordinary Man, being subject to tremendous sufferings and hardships all through His lifetime which culminated in His death on the cross, in order to merely improve people’s living conditions and give them material wealth or even health or anything else obtainable outside of Him? I don’t think so. That’s to show you the folly of the so-called prosperity gospel.
Now it’s one thing for a person to say, “I’m born again! I’m a child of God! All my sins have been forgiven! I’m justified!” and to claim other scriptural promises by “faith.” It’s quite another thing for one to have a firsthand, practical and real experience of the blessed gospel of salvation according to Jesus and His holy apostles. Even devils can do the former, but it takes honesty and humility for a man to experience the latter. Lack of honesty and humility is one thing that has hindered many people from accessing the narrow gate that leads into God’s Kingdom. Such people view the gate as too narrow and strait, like “the needle’s eye,” for anyone to go through. They seem oblivious of the fact that their unwillingness to own up to their pet sins and forsake them, and to humble themselves and put their whole trust in the crucified and glorified Savior (and not in self or anything else), has made the gate too narrow and inaccessible to them. And so they usually opt for the broad gate which offers false hope of forgiveness and eternal life without having to make a U-turn from sin to God. The hypocritical, proud and self-righteous Pharisees of old were just like that. Sadly, many professors of Christianity nowadays are also like that. But you don’t have to be like that. If you are honest with your sins and shortcomings before God, and if you humble yourself before Him and personally accept the finished work of His Son on the cross, then you will find the gate of life wide enough for you to go through like the needle’s eye is wide enough for a little ant or a microscopic organism to pass through.
Having “entered by the narrow gate,” as Jesus commands us, the next thing for us to do is to walk the narrow way which leads to eternal life—a life of increasing knowledge, not just head (theoretical) knowledge but heart (experiential, practical) knowledge, of God and Christ, just as Jesus defines it in John 17:3. One major ambition of the Devil is to hinder many people from entering God’s Kingdom through the narrow gate—the gate of forgiveness of sins coupled with justification through repentance and faith in Christ. And he usually achieves that through deception: by deceiving people into believing that they could somehow find their way to God without having to go through the narrow gate, like all false religions teach. He presents to them a broad gate, broad enough to accommodate their pride and other pet sins which they seem reluctant to give up, while he keeps them imagining that they are on their way to Heaven. But if he is unable to hinder you from entering through the narrow gate, you can be sure that he will try by all means to hinder you from walking the narrow way—the Way of the Cross, the Way of Sanctification, or “the Highway of Holiness,” as Isaiah the prophet calls it (Isa 35:8). He will try his best to keep you stuck at the narrow gate so that after a while you get fed up, turn your back on the Kingdom, and walk away. You are either moving forward or backward in life. You can’t always be in a fixed position. Nothing is fixed or stationary in the Universe, so to speak. Everything is in a state of motion, either forward or backward motion, just as science also affirms. Thus, there is a need for you and me to keep moving forward and pressing on in this heavenly race along the narrow way, as we are also exhorted in the book of Hebrews:
Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. (Heb. 6:1-6)
The above passage pictures the Christian life as a building whose foundation includes: repentance not only from bad works (sinful works or works of the flesh, mentioned in scriptures such as Rom 1:18-32, Gal 5:19-21, etc.) but also from dead works (good works done with wrong motives or in wrong ways, such as giving, praying or fasting to be seen by men) and faith toward God; the doctrine of baptisms (plural), that is, water baptism (by immersion) and baptism in the Holy Spirit; the laying on of hands which implies impartation of spiritual gifts e.g. prophecy, word of wisdom, healings, tongues, etc.; teachings on the resurrection of the dead, the second coming of Christ and eternal judgment, when the righteous (the believers) will be raised to eternal life and the wicked (the unbelievers) will be raised to eternal condemnation. As wonderful as these subjects are, they are all foundational (elementary, basic) principles of the Christian life. We must go beyond laying the foundation to building the superstructure of the house. Or, to put it another way, we must press beyond entering through the narrow gate to walking the narrow way that leads to eternal life.
The Holy Spirit, through the pen of the writer of the book of Hebrews, then warns us of the danger of not pressing on to perfection, of not seeking to become completely like Christ in thoughts, desires, passions, attitudes, speech, conduct, and every practical way. (Note that I say, “every PRACTICAL way,” for there are some ways we don’t have to, or can’t even, be like Jesus. For instance, we don’t have to be a carpenter or shun formal education or stay single, just because Jesus did these things; and we don’t have to die for the sin of the world because Jesus did that, in fact, we don’t even have the capacity to do that.) Now without getting into unnecessary theological arguments, one thing is clear that those referred to in Hebrews 6:4-5, “who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,” are true believers in Christ. And if such people should “FALL AWAY (not just fall like we all do),” it’s impossible to restore them to repentance, “SINCE (while, as long as, because) they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame” (vs 6). How do believers crucify Jesus afresh? By deliberately indulging in sin after having known the truth (see Heb 10:26-31). After we have come to know the truth that it’s our sins that put the Son of God on the cross and made Him go through unimaginable degree of anguish (pain and sorrow), if we still take those sins lightly and go on indulging them willfully (deliberately, stubbornly)—trying to take advantage of God’s mercy, longsuffering and goodness which are meant to liberate us from sin and not license us to sin—then we are treading on very dangerous ground.
There are various passages of Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments, which show us (either explicitly or otherwise) that once saved is not always saved. For instance, the children of Israel were once saved from Egypt, but were afterwards destroyed in the wilderness because of their unbelief and disobedience to God. In reference to them we are warned, “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:12-13). Paul also speaks of some who made shipwreck of their faith because of their failure to keep a good (clear) conscience (1 Tim 1:19-20). It’s true that Jesus is “the author of eternal salvation,” but only to “all who obey Him (continuously)” (Heb 5:8). Yes, He is the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for His own sheep so as to give them eternal life (and eternal security), but apparently the sheep have the responsibility to “abide in Him,” to remain in His safe hand, as recorded in John’s Gospel. Salvation is doubtlessly the sovereign work of God from start to finish; nevertheless man has a part to play therein, to exercise his freewill in submitting himself to God, for God won’t impose Himself on anyone. If man has no part to play at all (like some claim), then everyone in the world should be saved, since that is God’s desire (1 Tim 2:4). Mind you, the fact that we have a part to play doesn’t rob God of His glory, because He is the One who gives us both the willingness and the ability to cooperate with Him in this work (Phi 2:12-13).
Forgiveness of sins is great. And justification—to be made completely right with God and perfectly acceptable before Him, just like Jesus is and just as if one has never sinned in his whole life—is even greater. Paul, talking about justification by faith, makes reference to David who was so excited when his sins were forgiven and when he had a foretaste of justification that he exclaimed, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin” (Rom 4:5-8). But beyond forgiveness and justification, we are expected to “pursue righteousness…” (1 Tim 6:11)—to seek practical righteousness and holiness, to actively seek to lead a sanctified life, of course, not through our human strength or self-effort but through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the narrow way that Jesus has shown us, by His life and teachings, and along which He has called us to follow Him as we deny self and take up the cross daily (Luke 9:23).
Therefore, let’s not be disobedient to the “upward call of God,” like the children of Israel who once obeyed the call to leave the land of Egypt (picturing forgiveness and justification by faith) but later disobeyed the call to enter the land of Canaan (symbolizing sanctification and victorious Christian living by faith also). Having buried all our past sins in “the Red Sea”—the blood of Christ—we must press on (like Paul and the saints of old did) to possess “the good land flowing with milk and honey”—the Kingdom of God—and subdue all the giants of fleshly desires and passions, until that glorious day when we shall see the Lord face to face in a sinless, glorified body like His (Phi 3:12-21). Let’s wholeheartedly seek to be among the few who by faith follow Jesus along the narrow way, though difficult but not impossible, and take possession of the Kingdom of Heaven, like Joshua and Caleb (among about 600,000 men who left Egypt) believed God and took possession of the land of Canaan.
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Two Types of Trees
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. (Matt 7:15-20)
Having described the gate to life as narrow and the way as difficult, Jesus was quick to warn His disciples to “beware of false prophets.” What a word for our day when the religious landscape is dotted with false prophets and ministers, who try to enlarge the gate and make the way easy in order to gather a large followership! Now some false ministers are relatively easy to identify, while some others are not that easy to spot. For instance, you may have heard or seen cases of some preachers, pastors, prophets, or whatever names they call themselves, who tell their members to eat grass as if they are cows, drink liquid disinfectants, or do some other absurd stuff, for whatever reasons known to them. You may say, “Who does that? How can anyone, in his right mind, fall for such nonsense?” Well, it may shock you that some still believe and do those foolish, irrational things, which are obviously contrary not only to the sound teachings of Scripture but also to common sense. Or if someone should declare that Jesus is not the Son of God or deny some other clear truths of the Bible, you may not likely believe them. Common sense alone, not to mention spiritual discernment, is enough to identify such ministers as fake.
However, there are some false ministers who may not be so easy to identify. They “come in sheep’s clothing,” meaning that they look pretty much like the sheep of Christ, the true disciples of Jesus. They may be quite evangelical and correct in their doctrines: proclaiming the divinity and humanity of Jesus (that Jesus is 100% God and 100% man), that salvation is by grace through faith and not of works, that the Holy Spirit is a real Person and not just a “force” like some claim, that Heaven and Hell are real, that Jesus is coming back soon, etc. They may also be zealous about the gifts of the Spirit and about reaching the lost with the gospel and what have you. “But inwardly they are ravenous wolves,” Jesus affirms. Of these latter ministers we need to be more wary than the former. Otherwise, we will be trapped in their claws or may have been trapped already and not even realize it.
Now the question is: How does one identify such false ministers? Since they seem okay (true) outwardly and since no one apparently knows what’s inside the heart of another, how do we recognize them? “You will know them by their fruits,” says Jesus. Considering the attitude of the vast majority of today’s believers toward the fruits and the gifts of the Spirit, a casual observer may imagine that gifts are the identifying marks of a true minister of Christ. If a person possesses great oratory and the ability to hold crowds spell-bound with his speech, the capacity to heal the sick and perform miracles, the ability to foretell future events with cutting-edge precision, or some other impressive gifts (either spiritual or natural gifts), the average Christian is quick to conclude that such a person must be a true minister of Christ and a true servant of God.
Let me remind you that Jesus doesn’t say, “You will know them by their GIFTS,” but rather, “You will know them by their FRUITS.” Lest I seem to underrate or despise spiritual gifts, let me state that spiritual gifts are very important for the Christian (and the church) to fulfill God’s full purposes for them. A Christian or a church (a group of believers) without spiritual gifts has been aptly described as a man who, though may be alive, is yet blind, deaf, dumb, maimed and paralyzed. How much can such a man accomplish in life? The gifts of the Spirit are so essential that we are exhorted to “COVET EARNESTLY the best gifts” (1 Cor. 12:31). Nevertheless, in the same passage, we are shown “a more excellent way”—the way of bearing the fruit of love, divine love (1 Cor. 13).
Fruit is the thing that we must look out for primarily, if we are to rightly discern what sort a tree is. “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit,” we are further told, just the way an apple tree can’t produce lemons and a bramble can’t produce apples either. This implies that if a minister is in good standing with God, if his heart is right before Him and filled with divine love, it will surely reflect in the fruit of his life, in his speech and conduct (his words and actions). In the same vein, if a minister is not in good standing with God, if his heart is not right before Him and not filled with divine love, it will also reflect in the fruit of his life, in his speech and conduct (no matter how hard he may try to hide it). Though we may not know exactly what’s inside the heart of a person, yet we can have a glimpse of it on the basis of their speech and behavior. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” Jesus reveals (Matt 12:34). Or to put it another way, “For out of the abundance of the heart the body acts and reacts.” In other words, if you want to know the content of a person’s heart, check their speech, character, behavior, outlook and manner of life.
Jesus (His life and teachings) is the Standard by which everyone and everything—every doctrine, every practice, every speech, every behavior, every attitude, etc.—must be checked and crosschecked. And for us to do that accurately, we need to have a personal, intimate knowledge of Him through the revelation of the Holy Spirit as we study and meditate on the written Word of God. If we don’t know the Original, it will be difficult (if not impossible) for us to identify the fake, especially if the fake looks pretty much like the Original. It has been said that the Central Bank Treasury Department trains its agents to spot counterfeit bills by giving them authentic ones to examine, feel and recognize. Also the best way to prove that a stick is crooked is to set a straight one beside it. Likewise, the most effective way for us to develop our spiritual discernment so as to be able to distinguish between truth and errors is by first acquainting ourselves with the truth and then testing everything in the light of the truth. And the truth is beyond written letters; it’s the very Person of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, many believers of today seem so indifferent, so lazy or so attached to the aprons of their papas, pastors, prophets or leaders, that they don’t seek to know the real Jesus by themselves and for themselves, as clearly revealed in the pages of the Bible (the Old and especially the New Testament). Lack of knowledge, a personal knowledge of God and Christ, is one reason why many have been trapped in the claws of 21st-century false ministers and fake prophets, who disguise themselves as ministers of Christ. Another reason is their wrong understanding of scripture that says, “Judge not” (discussed earlier in part two), and their misinterpretation of some other passages of Scripture.
For instance, let’s consider one very important subject: the matter of money. Do you know what Jesus said (and taught) about money? What was His attitude toward money? Also what did the apostles say about money? And what was their attitude toward money? If you don’t know the answers to these, and if you don’t sincerely seek to know them, I can guarantee you that you will be deceived by false ministers and teachers of today or perhaps you’ve been deceived already and don’t even realize it. I don’t want to repeat what we’ve already discussed in earlier parts concerning the matter of money and material riches. Howbeit, I must say that only a few ministers (perhaps 100 out of 10,000) teach exactly what Jesus and His apostles taught about money. And fewer still (perhaps 1 out of 10,000) have the same attitude that Jesus and His apostles had toward money, that is, practice what they preach about money. I’m not trying to play the role of God as a Judge. Far from it! I only seek to present before you the sad facts of these last days in which we live, described by Paul as “perilous times” in his second letter to Timothy, that you may take necessary cautions.
But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money… lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! (2 Tim 3:1-5)
In the above passage we see that what makes the last days “perilous”—very difficult or hard to deal with—is the kind of people living therein. Among various things mentioned there, we see four kinds of lovers: lovers of self, lovers of money, lovers of pleasure, on one side, and, on the other side, lovers of God. We are told that these people who are lovers of self, money and pleasure, will have a form of godliness but deny its power; “they will act as if they are religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly,” as the New Living Translation puts it. Such people, I believe, include false ministers described by Jesus as those who “come in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Because of their external veneer of godliness, their appearance of piety, they will “creep into households and make captives of gullible women (and even undiscerning men) loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth,” as Paul further explains (2 Tim 3:6-7).
Thus, we need to be discerning and to love the truth even when it hurts or is unenjoyable. I don’t think anyone enjoys taking drugs or injections, yet we take them when we are sick, knowing that it’s good for us (for our physical health). Shouldn’t we also have the same attitude toward the truth that is good and needful for our spiritual health (and well-being)? People who are most vulnerable to deception are those who don’t love the truth, especially when the truth lays their sins bare before them and commands them to repent so that they may be saved. Concerning such people Paul also writes, “God (Himself) will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2:11-12). This is very serious! We are not to be gullible, sheepishly believing everyone that goes by the name of “man of God” or “prophet” or “apostle” or the like, and accepting everything they say or teach without scrutinizing it in the light of God’s Word, for fear that we may be accused of “being judgmental” or “touching the anointed” or the like. But rather we are to be wise and discerning, testing not only the words of all ministers but also their spirits (their attitudes) so as to ascertain whether or not they are of God, as we are commanded:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)
“As sheep in the midst of wolves,” we should “be wise as serpents and harmless as doves,” just as Jesus says (Matt 10:16). And true wisdom is found in “the knowledge of the Holy One,” as Proverbs 9:10 reveals. If you want to be truly wise, then seek to know the Lord Jesus personally and intimately. Strive to know His thoughts, desires, interests, values, etc. Seek to understand the principles by which He lived at home, worked as a Carpenter, did ministry and everything else, and then apply these principles to your own life first and also use them to test those who claim to be His ministers. If truly we belong to Jesus, we will seek to align our lives (and ministries) with His. The same applies to those who minister in His Name. If there is no alignment (or at least a sincere pursuit for alignment) between the life of a minister and Jesus’, then it simply means that the minister is a crook. This is one implication of confessing that “Jesus has come in the flesh,” as John tells us (1 John 4:2-3). Because of the coming of Jesus in the flesh—as an ordinary Man who was “in all things made like His brethren” and “in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 2:17; 4:15)—we can through the power of God’s Spirit follow Him and live the way He lived. This doesn’t mean that we can be sinlessly perfect here on earth like He was, but it simply means that we can be blameless (above reproach) and have a perfect (clear) conscience, a conscience without offense before God and men according to the light that we have. Anything short of that, or anything beyond that, is a counterfeit.
We must beware of those who present what Paul calls “another Jesus” and “another spirit” and “another gospel” (2 Cor. 11:3), those who teach stuff that doesn’t align with the wholesome words of Christ and with the doctrine of true godliness and holiness. We are not to have fellowship with such folks, hoping that we may change them or for some other reasons; but we are to stay clear of them if we really value our precious, eternal souls, as Paul charged Timothy (1 Tim 6:5; 2 Tim 3:5). Remember that hungry wolves are not interested in the welfare of sheep, regardless of how friendly they may appear to be, but rather seek to devour them. And there are too many wolves in Christendom today who cover themselves with sheep’s clothing, too many false ministers who disguise themselves as ministers of Christ like the way Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:13-15). Such ministers may appear to be zealous for God and serving Christ, but actually they are serving their bellies. Concerning them Paul writes with tears to the Philippians:
Brethren, join in following my example and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things. (Phi 3:18-19)
This matter of distinguishing between what’s true and what’s false cannot be overemphasized, for therein lies our eternal security (and salvation). While encouraging believers to follow their example, Jesus and His apostles (including the writers of the New Testament books) also warned them and showed them how to identify false ministers (as in the above passage). In fact, a considerable part of Peter’s second letter is about false ministers—about their destructive doctrines and deceptive ways by which they can be identified, as well as their depravity and final doom. In addition, Jude initially wanted to write about the subject of salvation but somehow felt the need to exhort the believers to “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3). “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness (license to sin) and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ,” he explains (Jude 4). Then he goes on to tell us more about these ungodly men (fake ministers and false brethren) as well as the terrible fate that awaits them if they don’t repent. Every true minister of Christ won’t neglect nor refrain from calling out “wolves that come in sheep’s clothing.” You can be sure of that. Any minister who neglects or refrains from doing so is most likely afraid of the wolves, an admirer or a beneficiary of the wolves, or a wolf himself. And for those who consider this act of exposing false ministers as “uncharitable” (unloving, unkind, rude, etc.), you might as well label Jesus and His apostles “uncharitable”. This, to me, is like saying: It’s uncharitable or wrong for National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to expose those who peddle contraband food and fake drugs. Imagine that!
One of the first things that Peter says about false ministers is: “By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words” (2 Pet 2:3). The New Living Translation puts it this way, “In their greed they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money.” This is one chief mark of false ministers: covetousness, greed, love of money and earthly riches. And this is evident in the way they overrate money and earthly riches in their sermons and conversations, as if life consists in the abundance of what one possesses, and is also evident in their flamboyant lifestyle. “They have a heart trained in covetous practices,” Peter further explains, just like Balaam the son of Beor “who loved the wages of unrighteousness” (vs 14-15). They are experts at exploiting and swindling people by either coaxing them or coercing them to pay tithes and give all manners of offerings, to “sow seed” as they say, such as first-fruit offering, redemption seed, Shiloh offering, firstborn seed, etc. How pathetic! More pathetic is the fact that the so-called people of God who follow them love to have it so, just like those Corinthians to whom Paul said, “For you put up with it if one brings you into bondage, if one devours you, if one takes from you, if one exalts himself, if one strikes you on the face” (2 Cor. 11:20). As a matter of fact, their followers may even take you as their enemy if you try to show them that such offerings and practices are invalid scripturally. Nonetheless, we won’t be cower into silence nor stop sounding the alarm, as long as God continues to supply us with grace to do so.
One final word before we move to the last subsection of this part: The fact that a Christian errs (goofs) in one area or another doesn’t necessarily mean that he is a false Christian. In fact, none of us can sincerely say that he has never erred since he became a Christian, either in doctrine or in practice or in both. What makes you a false Christian (or a false minister) is primarily the state of your heart and your attitude toward sin. Has my heart been transformed by the love of God revealed in Christ or not? What seed do I nurture in my heart: the seed of the love of God or the seed of the love of self, money and pleasure? When I err or stumble into sin, what’s my attitude when the Holy Spirit convicts me of my error or sin? Do I humble myself and repent of it, like David did when he was challenged by Nathan the prophet regarding the matter of Uriah whom he had murdered and whose wife (Bathsheba) he had taken away? Or do I try to justify myself and my wrong deeds, like Saul did when he was confronted by Samuel the prophet for his unlawful sacrifice and concerning the matter of the Amalekites? These are some vital questions we need to ask ourselves, in a bid to examine ourselves as to whether our Christianity is genuine or fake. I hope you do so with all sincerity before God and then make every necessary amendment.
Remember that God’s mercy is always available to forgive and restore every repentant sinner, no matter how deep they’ve sunk into sin/error. As long as there is life, there is hope even for the worst of sinners and heretics. No matter how bad your tree (your life) is, it can be regenerated. The Son of God has come with an ax laid to the root of the trees and ready to chop down every tree that doesn’t bear good fruit (Matt 3:10). If you ask Him in humility and faith, He will chop down your bad tree and plant a brand new one in its place, a good tree that bears good fruit in due season. The only person for whom there is no hope is the one who persists in his sins and in the error of his ways until the point of death. The end of such people is Hell fire, just as the Bible makes plain. But concerning you, my dear reader, I’m confident of better things, yes, things that accompany salvation (see Heb 6:9-12).
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Two Kinds of Builders
Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” Therefore whoever hears these sayings of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall. (Matt 7:21-27)
Jesus once appointed seventy disciples and sent them two by two into every city and place where He Himself intended to go, having given them power and specific instructions on how they were to go about the work of the gospel (Luke 10:1-16). After having carried out the work, the seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name” (vs 17). Now pay close attention to Jesus’ reply to them:
I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven. (Luke 10:18-20)
It’s a wonderful and exciting thing to be anointed with the Holy Spirit and power, like Jesus, for the work of ministry. Without this anointing ministry can be quite burdensome and dreary, rather than being a joyful, delightful experience. One who attempts to do ministry or serve God without the anointing and power of the Holy Spirit is like a man who tries to lift a load of one tonne (1,000 kg) to the top of a high mountain or a high-rising building. How possible is that, except with the aid of a crane or some other machine? Likewise it’s impossible for anyone to serve God effectively without the aid and power of His Spirit. Like lubricating oil which enables a machine to operate frictionlessly and smoothly, the anointing (oil) of the Spirit is what enables the believer to serve God tirelessly and effectively. Those who try to serve God without it may end up being frustrated and disgraced like the seven powerless sons of Sceva who, in a bid to imitate Paul, tried to cast out demons (Acts 19:13-16). If Jesus Himself needed to be anointed with the Holy Spirit and power at His baptism in the River Jordan before He went about doing the work of ministry—preaching the gospel, teaching the things of the Kingdom, healing the sick, casting out demons, and so on—how much more we need to be anointed! The anointing of the Spirit is the secret to effective ministry as seen in Jesus and His disciples, including those seventy whom He sent out. But for us to have it, we must pray in faith—ask, seek and knock for it—like Jesus did at His baptism as recorded in Luke’s gospel (see Luke 3:21-22).
“I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven,” says Jesus to the seventy. How we need to be well established in this great truth that Satan has already fallen! He has already been defeated by Jesus on the cross. Both he and all his demons have been “disarmed”—stripped of all their powers and weapons—as Paul also affirms in his letter to the Colossians (Col 2:15). They have now become stingless, powerless serpents and scorpions as well as toothless, clawless lions, as it were. Though they may still roar against us and try to scare us, yet they can’t do us any harm, inasmuch as we are in Christ and God is with us. Knowledge (and belief) of this truth is what can enable us to have effective ministries, like Jesus of whom it’s written that He “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38). As essential and wonderful as it’s for the believers in Christ to be anointed with power for effective ministry—endued with power to cast out demons, heal the sick, preach and teach the Word of God effectively, and so on—yet we are told, “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” O, that these solemn words of Jesus may be drilled into our minds and settle in our hearts!
In our opening text we see that after all has been said and done, what will matter in that Day when Christ returns is not the fact that we prophesied or preached powerfully, cast out demons, and did many wonders and signs all in Jesus’ Name. Much less will it matter whether or not we were rich, influential, educated, married, bore children, physically fit and strong, or possessed other earthly things which are highly esteemed among people. What will matter in that Day is whether or not we did the will of God. Yes, it is God’s will that all His children should be anointed with power for effective ministry, that we should walk in various dimensions of the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit, as I’ve tried to establish earlier. And He desires to supply “all [our] needs (including material and earthly needs) according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus,” as Paul writes to the Philippians (Phi 4:19). But beyond all that, God’s supreme will and desire is for us to become holy in and out, like Jesus, pure in thoughts, desires, attitudes, speech, character and manner of life. In the Spirit-inspired words of Paul:
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality (and every other defilement); that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit. (1 Thess. 4:3-8)
We need to understand that the primary purpose with which God has given us the Holy Spirit is not merely to speak in tongues, prophesy, heal the sick, work miracles, cast out demons, or exercise other spiritual gifts (all these are important but secondary and are not an end in themselves but a means to an end). The primary work (end or goal) of the Holy Spirit is to sanctify us—to make us holy and pure like Jesus, God’s Firstborn. Among many adjectives that can be used to describe God’s Spirit such as powerful, mighty, great, awesome, etc., He didn’t choose any of these. But rather God chose to call Him, “the HOLY Spirit.” Isn’t that quite significant? That, I strongly believe, is to teach us that the goal (or purpose) of the Spirit in man is to make him holy. Holiness is the real deal, the main thing. Other things are secondary. If I claim to be born again and filled with the Spirit and yet my number one passion (ambition) isn’t to become holy like Jesus, then my claim is pretty questionable. If I claim to be Spirit-filled and yet take sin lightly or try to excuse my sins and wrong deeds, then I’m only deceiving myself. Among many sins there are, it’s noteworthy that Paul mentions one particular sin from which we must abstain, which is sexual immorality. This is one of the biggest giants we, especially young people, have to deal with. In another place he writes:
Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Cor. 6:18-20)
No doubt, every sin is serious (great, grave) in the sight of God. There is no “small sin” or “little sin” before Him. This doesn’t mean that all sins are equally serious. Some sins, of course, are more serious than others, as Paul seems to imply in the above passage and as we see in some other passages of Scripture (such as John 19:11; 1 John 5:16, 17, etc.). One of the most serious sins, I believe, is sexual immorality. Supposing you are the type that maintains a very high level of hygiene and then you visit a friend who is somewhat dirty. Because of your love for your friend and your love for hygiene, you help him to clean up his whole room and everywhere is looking clean, tidy and sparkling. But after taking time and pain to clean up and tidy up the room, your friend begins to scatter everything and also takes mud—or worse still, excrement—and splashes it everywhere, how will you feel? I’m sure you won’t feel good about it. “Why did you do this? Are you okay? What were you thinking? This is crazy!” you may possibly say to your friend, in your anger and displeasure with him. I think you won’t hesitate to leave the apartment, especially if he is not sorry about his action. And you will be justified to have responded in that manner. Now do you realize that sexual immorality is like messing up the room (your body) which, in actual sense, isn’t yours but God’s; for He created it and, after it was sold out by sin, He bought it with the precious blood of His Son? If you truly believe that, then you will hate and avoid every trace of sexual sin; you will “hate even the garment defiled by the flesh” (Jude 23). And you will present every part of your body (from head to toe) to God as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to Him.
The fact that a man possesses word of wisdom and knowledge, preaches powerfully, speaks with tongues, cast out demons, does real (not stage-managed) miracles in the Name of Jesus, and so on, doesn’t necessarily mean that he is known by God or approved by the Lord Jesus or recognized in Heaven. Man may be impressed by a person’s giftedness, but God is not impressed, neither is the Devil. Fruit is what God seeks primarily in His people. His will, above everything else, is that we should bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, meekness, kindness, etc. In fact, the more gifted you are, the more you are in danger of being puffed up by your giftedness and thus the more you are in danger of falling from grace; for “pride goes before a fall” (Pro 16:18). “Knowledge (one of the gifts) puffs up, but love (one of the fruits) edifies,” Paul penned to the Corinthians who seemed to be puffed up with their spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 8:1). “And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, this one is known (recognized, approved) by Him,” he further said (vs 2-3). I’m not saying this to discourage you from seeking the gifts of the Spirit, but rather to encourage you to put first things first, to challenge you to seek fruitfulness above giftedness. What matters most before God isn’t giftedness, but faithfulness in all things including how we handle whatever gifts or ministries we have received from Him.
Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” Jesus says. This passage can be applied to our own personal lives and also to test those who profess to be ministers of Christ. In the context of the latter we see that it’s not just a question of whether the wonders and signs performed by a minister are genuine or fake, though we need to discern that. But beyond that, we need to check the attitude of the minister towards sin? Do his sermons and conversations promote true liberty (freedom from sin) or licentiousness (whereby the message of “grace” is presented as though it were a license to sin)? Is he a true preacher of grace, “the grace of God that brings salvation… teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Tit 2:11-14)? Or is he a preacher of “hyper-grace” that falsely claims, “Once saved is always saved! Once your spirit is saved, you can never be lost, regardless of how you live…”?
Dear reader, in the final analysis, let me repeat that the only thing that will matter is whether or not we did the will of God during our earthly lives. Am I living my life to please God or self? Am I hallowing God’s temple (my body) or defiling it? Am I seeking to keep the holy commands of Christ or seeking to do whatever pleases me? Am I a doer of God’s will as revealed by His Spirit in the written Word or just a hearer/reader of the Word? These are some questions that you and I need to ask ourselves in preparation for the final Day. It’s good to read the Bible and Christian books that present the unadulterated message of the gospel as often as possible. I would also encourage you to listen to true ministers of the gospel—who preach nothing but the whole truth, the whole counsel of God—whenever and wherever you get the chance. But beyond mere reading and hearing the Word of truth, we must seek to obey (keep, do) the Word and apply its principles in our daily lives. Obedience is the proof of our love for the Lord, just like works are the evidence of our faith (John 14:15; Jas 2:17, 18). These three correlative things mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:13—“faith, hope, love”—should be our hallmarks, as a new creation. We are to live by faith, be known by our love, and be a voice of hope to those around us.
Jesus likens the doer of the Word to “a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock” (Matt 7:24-25). “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall,” He further says (vs 26-27). Obviously, it’s more difficult and more costly to locate a rock and build a house on it than to build on cheaply available sand. Even so it’s relatively easy for one to hear the truths of God and even explain (preach or teach) them to others. But the real deal is putting the truths to practice both in public and especially in private.
Lastly, on the surface you may not be able to distinguish between the house built on the rock (solid foundation) and the one built on the sand (weak foundation). The two houses may even look fairly similar. But when rain falls, floods come and winds blow against the houses, then the states of their foundations will be revealed. Likewise, it’s usually in the seasons of rain (blessings, successes, etc.) often accompanied with (or preceded by) floods and winds (representing trials and oppositions) that the states of our spiritual foundations are revealed. If we’ve sought to know God’s Word and keep it, then our houses will be able to stand when these seasons come. In other words, we won’t be puffed up with pride when God blesses us in one way or the other, neither will we be weighed down with discouragement and depression when we face trials and oppositions (from men and demons).
May we receive grace to be doers of the Word indeed.
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In part one of this book I tried to explain the nine attitudes which are fitting for the disciple of Jesus, described as a new creation in that popular passage of the Bible (2 Cor. 5:17). And there we saw that those who are truly blessed—fortunate, happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous with life, joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions, according to the Amplified Bible paraphrase—are not multimillionaires, famous celebrities, influential politicians or revered religious leaders, but these: (1) the poor in spirit, those who are humble and have a deep sense of their need for God; (2) those who mourn or sorrow in a godly manner leading to salvation; (3) the meek, those who have learned from Jesus to be humble and gentle and thus have found rest for their souls; (4) those who hunger and thirst for nothing but Christ Himself, the righteousness of God personified; (5) the merciful, those who deal mercifully and kindly with others, just as God has dealt with them; (6) the pure in heart, those whose heart is fully (100%) devoted to God, totally dead to the world; (7) the peacemakers, those who make peace and bring the atmosphere of Heaven everywhere they find themselves; (8 & 9) those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness and Christ.
We need to be reminded that these attitudes (inner dispositions of the heart and mind) are not something we try to produce on our own or by our self-effort. In fact, no man can produce these heavenly virtues by himself, no matter how hard or how long he tries. It’s like a man trying to climb to the moon on a spider’s web! Or like a man attempting to ride a bicycle to outer space! Insane, right? So also is trying to live the new-covenant life in our own strength. It’s only on the wings of the Spirit—only through faith in the Son of God who died for us and was raised from the dead by the power of the Spirit of God—that we can mount up to these spiritual heights of glory described in the Beatitudes. Only by faith in the resurrection power of God manifested in Christ can we experience this new life of glory and victory, and fulfill our glorious calling as the salt and the light of the world. Smith Wigglesworth puts it this way: “I believe that there is only one way to all the treasures of God, and that is the way of faith. By faith and faith alone do we enter into a knowledge of the attributes and become partakers of the beatitudes, and participate in the glories of our ascended Lord. All His promises are Yea and Amen to them that believe.”
In part two we discussed nine attitudes which are unfitting for the new creation in Christ. These wrong attitudes are: (1) unholy anger which is closely related to envy, bitterness, gossiping, backbiting, slander and all types of malicious behavior; (2) lust of the eyes, sexually impure thoughts, divorce, adultery, fornication, masturbation, homosexuality, and all forms of sexual immorality and sexual perversion; (3) all kinds of falsehood such as blatant lies, half-truth, false impressions, flatteries, white lies, etc.; (4) revenge, seeking “an eye for an eye” and “a tooth for a tooth” and to get even with others; (5) hatred towards people especially those whom we perceive as our enemies; (6) seeking the honor of men in our daily living and our Christian service; (7) the love of money which is described as the root of all evil and as idolatry; (8) being worried and anxious about food, clothing, shelter, and other necessities of life; and (9) destructive criticism, or unrighteous judgment, which is based on appearance, hearsay or human sentiments, and is usually motivated by hatred, envy or some other ill-feelings.
I hope that, in the course of this study, you’ve seen some clear distinctions between the old covenant (law) and the new covenant (grace). For emphasis let me outline some here.
- The old covenant focuses on getting the outside of a man clean, while the new focuses on getting the inside clean, as evident in their commands and precepts like the issues of idolatry, sexual immorality, circumcision, and what have you.
- The promises and blessings of the old are mainly material and earthly, while those of the new are essentially spiritual and heavenly.
- In the old era the Holy Spirit couldn’t dwell inside any of the Israelites but could only come UPON a few of them for some time; but now, in this new age, the Holy Spirit seeks to dwell INSIDE every believer permanently, thereby making it possible for every believer to know God personally and intimately without any intermediary except Christ.
- Under the law obedience is usually fear-motivated or reward-motivated, as in the matters of keeping the Sabbath, tithing, etc.; whereas, in this grace dispensation obedience is meant to be love-motivated.
- Under the law only the descendants of Levi were qualified to be priests and to serve/minister in the tabernacle (and in the temple subsequently), but now grace has qualified ALL believers as priests and ministers of God.
- The old emphasizes the presentation of all kinds of offerings and sacrifices as well as tithes (10% of the Jews’ farm produce); but the new emphasizes the presentation of our bodies, as a living sacrifice to God, and all that we have (100%, not just 10%).
- Under the old the primary questions are “What?” and “How much/how many?”, that is, what you do, what you say, how much you give/pray/fast, how many years you live, etc.; whereas, under the new what matters most is “Why?”, that is, your motives and purposes. In other words, quality has come to replace quantity.
So we see that the old covenant—also known as the law which purportedly consists of a little over 600 laws including moral laws, civil laws and ceremonial laws—has some limitations and faults, just as the book of Hebrews makes plain too (Heb 8:7). One major limitation is that it couldn’t make people perfect, “perfect in regard to the conscience” (Heb 9:9; 10:1). (By the way, “conscience”—a part of the human soul that gives one the moral sense of right and wrong—is a word found only in the New Testament. It’s one major thing that distinguishes man from all animals. Animals don’t have conscience and so they can neither be holy nor sinful. Holiness begins with making a choice to do what’s right and acceptable before God; sinfulness, on the other hand, starts with choosing to do what’s wrong and abominable in God’s sight. Sadly, some people have deadened their conscience to the point that they behave so lawlessly and ruthlessly as animals or even worse than animals. Such include murderers, homosexuals, rapists, idol worshippers, extortioners, and reprobates, concerning whom the Bible speaks in the second half of Romans 1, 1 Timothy 4:1-3, etc.) Now if the law couldn’t make man have a perfect conscience, a conscience completely free from guilt and without offense towards God and people, why then did God give it? We know that God is omniscient; He knows everything including all the limitations of the law even long before He gave the children of Israel. And He makes no mistake. Yet He chose to give the Israelites the “faulty” law for a number of reasons.
One major reason is to show man how sinful and lost he is, how he is completely “sold under sin” and helpless in dealing with sin, as Paul explains in the seventh chapter of his epistle to the Romans. “The law is good (and perfect), then. The trouble (or fault) is not with the law but with me, because I am sold into slavery, with sin as my master,” he writes (Rom 7:14, NLT). Having shown us our utter sinfulness and helplessness, the next proper thing for us to do is to cry out in desperation with Paul, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:24). “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord,” he further exclaims (vs 25, NLT). In short, the main purpose with which the law was given is to lead people to a saving knowledge of Christ (as Gal 3:24 also declares).
One vital question I wish to address again is: How do we come into the new-covenant life? Is it by becoming converted or born again? Although being converted or born again is a prerequisite to entering the new-covenant life, yet it doesn’t automatically bring a person into this life. This is why the writer of the book of Hebrews, while addressing born-again believers in the context of citing the example of the Israelites who failed to enter the Promised Land because of their unbelief, says: “Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it” (Heb 4:1). He goes on to say: “For we who have believed do enter that rest…” (vs 3). Here again, as said earlier, we see that it’s through faith and faith alone that we can enter the new-covenant life of inner, spiritual rest—rest from the tyranny of sin and Satan. And this faith is beyond mere mental (head) knowledge, understanding or acceptance of new-covenant truths. It’s a matter of the heart, whereby we cleave helplessly to God like a little child does to its mother and like Jacob did to the Man with whom he wrestled that night, saying, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” (Gen 32:26).
For this reason Jesus was prompt to invite us to a life of prayer, the prayer of faith, as considered in part three of this book. We must “be diligent (labor, strive) to enter that rest,” as Hebrews 4:11 says, “lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience” (see also Luke 13:24). Putting this verse, as well as verse 6, together with the last verse of chapter 3, we see that the children of Israel couldn’t enter the land of Canaan because of their unbelief and disobedience. Here we find a close connection between faith and obedience, like there is between love and obedience. If we have faith in God and believe His Word, we will obey Him even if we don’t fully understand what He says or why He says it. But if we don’t trust Him, we won’t obey Him either even if His instructions were clear as midday. “For the one who believes no explanation is needed; but for the one who doesn’t believe no explanation is possible,” one has rightly stated.
Some of us are so drunk with the old wine (life under law) that we have little or no desire for the new wine (life under grace); we feel, “The old is better” (Luke 5:39). Sometimes we may even try to excuse our unbelief and failure to enter the new-covenant life, giving various excuses such as, “The world has changed a lot and so you can’t expect us to live today the way those early apostles lived…” Undoubtedly, the world has changed and is still changing (as seen in the advancement of technology, the present global pandemic, COVID-19, and all), but God’s holy Word (with His standards) is forever unchanging and never outdated. God won’t change His Word or lower His standards just to suit our flesh or our changing world or for any other reasons. We are to repent and change our ways and align our lives with His Word, while we still have time. For a time is coming when it will be too late to repent. Remember Esau! (Heb 12:16, 17).
What’s the proof that I’ve really come into the new-covenant life? Is it when I have plenty of money and material things, like some claim and would have us buy into? I think I’ve tried my best, in the course of this study, to debunk some exaggerated claims and lies of the so-called prosperity gospel and their advocates concerning whom Jesus warns us in the closing exhortations of His sermon on the Mount (considered in part three). By now you should know that material things can never, and will never, be a metric/gauge to determine one’s spiritual condition/standing. Those who believe otherwise might as well seek to occupy the land of Palestine in the Middle East, since that’s a major part of God’s promises to the Jews! Money, material things, earthly affluence and influence, physical health, and even spiritual gifts are not the litmus test for one’s spirituality. If you try to use these things to test your spirituality or others’, you will be deceived and deceived thoroughly at that.
So what then is the proof? Here is the answer: “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:14). If sin no longer has power over you—if you are no longer enslaved to the desires and passions of the flesh, no longer swayed by the ways and fashions of this fleeting world, no longer a captive of the Devil with his wiles and deceits—then you can be sure that you have entered the new-covenant life of grace. Until then, we must not rest but continue to “labor,” just as we’re exhorted in the book of Hebrews. Like Joshua alongside the Israelites fought after crossing the River Jordan until God gave them rest from all their enemies on every side, so also must we fight the spiritual warfare using spiritual weaponry until we have full rest from our threefold enemies—the flesh, the world and the Devil. Labor (fight) of faith is the secret to true rest. That’s one great paradox of the Christian life.
Finally, having read this little book up to this point, I don’t imagine that you must have found all the answers therein. My guess is that it may even have unsettled you—created in you what’s called “cognitive dissonance,” that is, a state of mental disagreement or conflict—at some point or generated more questions in your mind, perhaps regarding the matters of money, prosperity, sexual immorality, the state of the church and the way forward, and what have you. The aim of the book isn’t to give you all the answers (no book can do that actually), but to stir up your mind and heart to seek to know and understand all that Jesus has taught and all that He expects of you as a new creation. So I want to encourage you to take whatever question or issue on your mind to the Lord directly in the place of prayer and personal study of His Word. He is waiting to answer you, to guide you into all truth, and to lead you into a victorious and glorious life no matter how much/often you have failed in the past. You don’t have to beat yourself up over your past failures. Learn to let go of the past, having learned your lessons from it, and to forgive not only other people but also yourself. Trust God to bring forth beauty out of the ashes of your past, like He did for David, Rahab the harlot, Saul of Tarsus (aka Paul), Mary Magdalene, and a host of other saints. Allow Him to carry you on eagle’s wings to realms of the Spirit, to spiritual heights of glory that are inconceivable for chickens.
Let me leave you with these exulting words of Jude:
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24, 25)
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Emmanuel Adeniyi is a disciple of Jesus and a Bible teacher. He is also a civil engineer based in Nigeria. His passion and ambition are to see the Kingdom of Heaven, the Government of God, established and His will executed in his life, community, country, and the world at large.
He looks forward to hearing from you. He can be reached via the contacts below.
Phone number: +2348138485034
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