Archive for the ‘Matthew’ Category

The radical righteousness that Christ explains in the Sermon on the M0unt is tough to understand and just as hard to apply.  Peter Leithart takes a shot in an article in Credenda Agenda.  He notes some interpretations: Christ wanted to replace the law, Christ wanted us to have better attitudes while following the law, or Christ gave us an impossible guide to righteousness so that we know our own sin.  Leithart disagrees: Christ meant us to do what he said.

Leithart argues that God wants our lives to follow the pattern of his restoring righteousness that redeems sinners and the creation: “The life that Jesus requires surpasses the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees because the practices, habits, and actions of disciples break through the perverse customs and habits of sinful humanity and bring the kingdom of God onto earth.”  This can be seen in the way that Matthew 5:21-48 is structured:

As Glen Stassen has convincingly argued, this section of the sermon is not a series of antinomies but a series of triads.  On murder, Jesus doesn’t say, “1) You have heard, do not murder, 2) but I say don’t hate.”  Rather, He says: 1) You have heard, do not murder, and those who murder are liable to court; 2) but I say that anger and insults leave you in danger of the court and even of hell; therefore 3) leave your offering and go be reconciled to your brother.  Only section 3 is an imperative.  Jesus commandment is not: “Don’t be angry.”  Jesus’ commandment is: “Go be reconciled.”  That is the greater righteousness.  Jesus never commands us to avoid anger.  He teaches how to defuse anger so that it doesn’t escalate to murder.  In that way, we share in the establishment of God’s kingdom of peace….

To be righteous as Jesus is righteous, it’s not enough to avoid anger or lust.  Jesus is not giving us a transformed set of purity regulations – “Avoid this, avoid that, don’t touch that!”  He gives us a set of positive commands.  To practice the righteousness greater than that of the scribes we have to obey Jesus’ commands in order to break through the chains of lust so that we can cultivate chaste relations with the opposite sex.  It’s not enough to avoid hating enemies; you need to do good to them, to break through the habits of hatred, counter-hatred, escalating hatred, that destroys life.

He also discusses lust, retaliation, and generosity to one’s enemies.  He concludes:

Our instinct is, Get real, Jesus!  His demands may all be great for a perfect world, but we don’t live in a perfect world.  We live in a hard world, and you’ve got to cut some corners, break some eggs, defend yourself, take a little bit of vengeance, if you’re going to survive.   Jesus says, No.  The whole issue comes down to trust.  Do we trust our Father to give us what you need?  Do we trust that we’ll still have clothes if we keep giving them away, that we’ll still have bread if we are generous, that we’ll still have a face if we keep letting our cheeks be used as a punching bag, that we’ll still have dignity if we give things away to our enemies?

Jesus says: Trust your Father, and obey my commandments.  Trust your Father, and live out the righteousness of that faith.  Trust your Father, and live the redemptive, transforming righteousness that surpasses the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.

This interpretation has a lot to commend it.  As my friend Kevin is really good at pointing out, there’s still the question of whether there are limits to these attitudes (for example, giving someone money for drugs based on the command of giving to those who ask).  We’ve talked about this here and here.

I know this is a bit choppy, but I made it for my personal use and it might not be reader-friendly. This is a condensed commentary on Matthew 5:4 for the homegroup I am leading right now. We are going through the Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”

–          This beatitude connects to the previous one in that “being poor in spirit” acknowledges one’s poverty and need for help. Important to note that the Sermon on the Mount doesn’t advocate “works righteousness”, nor is “law” for Jews only. It begins with our poverty and need of grace.

–          Being “poor in spirit” will manifest itself in mourning.

  • Our faith is a “crying one”:
    • “We need, then, to observe that the Christian life, according to Jesus, is not all joy and laughter. Some Christians seem to imagine that, especially if they are filled with the Spirit, they must wear a perpetual grin on their face and be continuously boisterous and bubbly. How unbiblical can one become? No. In Luke’s version of the Sermon Jesus added to this beatitude a solemn woe: ‘Woe to you that laugh now.’1 The truth is that there are such things as Christian tears, and too few of us ever weep them.”[1]

–          “I fear that we evangelical Christians, by making much of grace, sometimes thereby make light of sin. There is not enough sorrow for sin among us. We should experience more ‘godly grief’ of Christian penitence, like that sensitive and Christ-like eighteenth-century missionary to the American Indians David Brainerd, who wrote in his journal on 18 October 1740: ‘In my morning devotions my soul was exceedingly melted, and bitterly mourned over my exceeding sinfulness and vileness.’ Tears like this are the holy water which God is said to store in his bottle. Such mourners, who bewail their own sinfulness, will be comforted by the only comfort which can relieve their distress, namely the free forgiveness of God” (Stott, John).

What is Godly grief? (more…)