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Rock-Solid Living In A Quicksand World
Five Stumbling Blocks To Experiencing The Law’s Liberating Limits
#1 The Tributaries of Murder
#2 Adultery: It’s Starting Point
#3 Divorce: A Preventable Tragedy
#4 Oaths: The Integrity Principle
#5 Blind And Toothless:
A Word of Caution
Matthew 5:21–26 (Paraphrased)
You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister without a cause will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother or sister, “Raca,” is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
Tributaries of Murder
Jesus’ audience was familiar with the teachings of the law. The first seven words “You have heard that it was said…” seem to indicate this. In other words, He was speaking to them about something they had already heard about in a limited way. To say this another way, these teachings had a historical basis. Perhaps, it was information that had been passed down from generation to generation. Or maybe they had heard about it from the education that they had received from the teachers or rabbis. Wherever they had learned this information, it is certain that Jesus was not talking to them about something unfamiliar; additionally, He was talking about the law. And this law was intended to provide liberating limits for governing life, but He needed to explain it to help people know about how this law had to be fulfilled in everyday living. So, He would talk about a law and then use the conjunction “but.”
Why did He do this? I suspect He did this because the law was no longer ordering life in a way that would give the people a foundation for living. The intent of the law was being corrupted, and rather than providing stepping-stones for their lives, the laws were becoming stumbling blocks— five of which Jesus identifies. Using these five things, He describes how He came to fulfill the law. Once the law is fulfilled in our lives, we have the rock-solid lives God intends. If we do not allow God to fulfill these in our lives, these laws become nothing but stones to trip over as we journey through life. Once we trip over them, we do not follow His path toward freedom and life.
Keep in mind that Jesus is making the point that fulfilling the law is much more than just making a rule to keep (or not to keep). If you cannot grasp this, you are tripping on a stumbling block rather than enjoying a life-giving steppingstone. Here He talks of murder, and He makes a point that can really balance life and give it a rock-solid foundation. The act of murdering someone puts the murderer in danger of judgment, but Jesus makes it clear that the real issue is how to relate peaceably with each other. He tells us that if we get angry with our brothers without justification, we are also violating the spirit of God’s law. His point becomes more poignant when He says that even name-calling—like “raca” or calling someone a “fool”—invites some form of judgment. In other words, murder starts way before the act of murdering occurs. It starts back at those early stages of letting anger grow and be verbalized. It starts in the heart.
I can imagine someone asking me, “Are you saying that being angry without a cause is looked at by God as being as serious a crime as taking a life?” No, but I am saying that God views unloving and unnecessary personal attacks very seriously, and if you keep in mind that we are seeking how to achieve rock-solid living in a quicksand world, you will note that seemingly small things create a flowing river that brings vitality and life—and the same holds true for death. The murder does not start with the murder. It starts further upstream where smaller “murders” are forming in the heart and head. These thoughts form the words and the habits that can build up to the point of murder.
Try thinking about it this way: Jesus tells us that when we go to give to God and remember that there is a conflict between a family member and ourselves, we don’t need to make the offering to the Creator before we work out our differences with our family member. This idea begins to flow even more sensibly when we read what Jesus says in the twenty-fourth verse, “Go be reconciled with your brother.” Then the full intent of this flowing wisdom comes to a perfect head as Jesus says in the twenty-fifth verse, “Settle matters quickly.”
Now, when you think about it, murder, unnecessary rage, name-calling, and unbearable family pain can be avoided if the rock-solid idea of “settling things” (the “ministry of reconciliation”) is practiced early in the process. So many wounds—spiritual, emotional, relational, financial, and physical—would never have occurred if we had not lived by what we call “irreconcilable differences” today. These differences that we set up are stumbling blocks to experiencing life. They land us in quicksand.
The loving spirit of God’s law begins at the core of our being and moves outward to our choices of life or death. It begins with the heart, and out of the heart flow the issues of life.
Adultery: It’s Starting Point
You have heard that it was said, “Do not commit adultery.” But I tell you that any man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
Where does sexual sin have its beginning? Does it begin in the act itself? Or does it begin with what leads up to the act? It begins, as with murder, at the early stages of the process of temptation. Jesus, using hyperbole, wants us to see in Matthew 5:29–30 that to overcome any sin—especially one that can enslave us—we need to consider just how serious sin is. Look at how He says to cut out our eye before we let in sin. Sin brings hell. If that hand sins…well…cut it off before it can sin. This is not a literal instruction where Christ Jesus is calling on us to maim ourselves to be pure. It means that when you notice temptation, you need to deal with it when it is at the beginning, before it enslaves you. Cut the temptation off at its roots while it is manageable; otherwise, it just might take over. Let the temptation brew until it boils, and you will stumble into the quicksand that may just suck the life out of you.
In the twenty-first century, pornography is as easy to find as the click of a computer key, and people can purchase just about everything with sexual overtones. Things that were once thought to be serious sexual sins are now called “adult entertainment.” We are easily and systematically desensitized into not being able to see the danger and seriousness of sin. We have lost the ability to blush; therefore, when a person of a certain body type begins to move a certain way, a normal desire for that person becomes inflated to lust.
The Bible teaches that “everyone is tempted when they are drawn away of his own lust and enticed. Then when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin. And sin when it is finished brings forth death” (James 1:14–15).
The foundational point here is that if we are going to be free indeed, and if we are going to walk on God’s stepping stones—and not trip on barriers that will bury us in shifting sand—we need to realize that sin can be harmful and deadly— even hellish. Playing with the fire, especially in sexual sin, will bring damage. Our own normal healthy God given desires can drag us away and entice us. It is best to focus daily on God’s viewpoint of the seriousness of sin and temptation.
Here are a couple of examples of how this works. In 2 Samuel 11, David did not sin with Bathsheba just on a whim. His actions resulted when he forgot God early on, and he gradually focused more on what he wanted to have rather than on being pure and free. In Judges 16, Samson did not cave in all at once, but gradually. First, he told Delilah to bind him with cords to negate his strength. He knew that this would have no effect. Next, he told her to bind up his hair. This had no effect either, but it was a gradual move toward revealing what God had told him not to reveal. Finally, he told her, “Cut my hair.” Many reading this know the rest of the story of what happened when Samson played with the sin of adultery.
God does not teach us this to spoil our fun. His fulfilled purpose is to spare us pain. Many have died painful deaths or have become sterilized because they gave into sexual sin that resulted in things like syphilis, gonorrhea, and AIDS. Sexually transmitted diseases like the HPV virus lead to cervical cancer. Many families have either imploded or exploded because of someone craving someone else. In fact, in Africa millions suffer from AIDS because men in more powerful positions allowed thoughts of desire for a poor child or woman, who could not withstand them, to take root in their hearts.
Playing with sexual sin, and failing to seek (by grace) to live in Christ’s overcoming power, will lead ultimately to a journey filled with quicksand and no foundation. The Lord Jesus does not desire such for His children. Walk with the Rock and disallow the stumbling block.
As Christ followers, we are not to set our wills on possessing anyone. We should seek compassionate, reconciliatory relationships, and life would certainly be better if we did not view others as objects to be used for self satisfaction. Our loving heavenly Father wants us to live fulfilled lives. He wants us to live grace-filled lives. He wants to help us focus on true life and health and hope, as we edify (build up) others. Otherwise pre adulterous thinking is a stumbling block that will prevent us from experiencing life.
Let the Lord fulfill His law in your heart. Focus on the Grace Giver rather than the temptation and be conciliatory to all you meet.
D-I-V-O-R-C-E : The Preventable Tragedy
It has been said, “Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.” But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Before we proceed, let me encourage you the reader to read carefully and prayerfully Matthew 19. This is Jesus most full and complete guidance on Divorce.
One of the things I really like about the way Jesus teaches is that He does not pull any punches when it comes to sharing liberating truth. Once of my concerns, when reading Matthew 5:31-32 is that it really is limited in scope, and Matthew records Jesus’s more detailed explanation in Matthew 19. Suffice it to say, there is a real social ill being addressed here that talks about the intent and fulfillment of the law It is true that the law allowed divorce in the days of Jesus’s journey here. But this resulted in some real problems, especially for women. The divorce laws of those days placed women on pure quicksand. Notice that it’s the man who gave the certificate of divorce and not the woman. Why? Men gave the certificate because women had no real status apart from their husbands. What do you think happened to a woman who had no status after her husband gave her that certificate? She was in a very bad place. So while the law gave the husband the right to do this, it forced his wife into a untenable situation.
Think about it. There was no alimony in those days. There was no government assistance. There was no social security. There were no laws concerning equally dividing property. All too often a divorced woman would sell the only thing she had left to sell: her body. Often, if she did not sell her body, she would starve…as might her children. In these cases, the husband literally caused her to become an adulteress to feed herself and their children—for whom he might or might not care. This caused the law to be clearly violated. This demolished society.
However, the spirit of the fulfilled law was to construct society not to destruct it. It’s as if Jesus were saying, “I know you can divorce her, but look at the damage you’re causing.” And anyone who married an adulterous woman, under the law, became adulterous by virtue of being in a relationship with her.
I suspect families that stay intact today provide a far more solid foundation for their children than those families that disintegrate. I believe that children who grow up in homes of original structure—with a mom and dad who are loving, disciplining, and overseeing the family—seem to do better throughout life. Providing a rock-solid example gives a solid footing on which children can base their lives. Those who live in a non-originally structured home face other challenges: I have listened to numerous single mothers, and a few single dads, who really struggle to care for their children. Or they simply wish to be with their children more often. It is really difficult to try to put their lives back together once the family has been torn asunder by the stumbling block of divorce. One parent or the other is many times unreliable, and it is a painful road they travel as they journey through life grieving the death of their marriage. When a spouse dies, grief can be triggered by special days such as holidays or anniversaries; however, in the case of divorce, I have seen grief explosively displayed—sometimes daily — over any conflict the two divorcees can conjure up.
Let me add another comment here. In the days when only men could file for divorce, because women in those days were considered little more than property (see Exodus 20:17), men could do so for any reason. So, in the expanded discussion on this topic of divorce, those who asked about divorce framed it in terms of whether or not divorce could be allowed for any reason. (See Matthew 19.) Imagine those crazy, middle-aged men of that day who, if they wanted a younger woman, could come up with any excuse to give the woman a divorce certificate. Think about it. They would be divorcing one woman just to marry another. They quite literally would, in God’s eyes, be committing adultery, and they would be doing it legally. I say this, because they were actually being unfaithful to their original wife to get to another woman. I call this legalized adultery. This explains how these men committed adultery even though they went through the legal process. Instead of living by the law and fulfilling the spirit of the law, they committed adultery by being unfaithful to their wives and to God. They divorced one to have another.
I suppose you can find similar examples of middle-age crazy men like this today. Look and see if there is an example of a forty-something guy in your neighborhood. He has a comb over for his bald head and, when the wind blows, his hair stands straight up on one side of his head. He is well heeled and his wrinkled and tanning bed–tanned face is perched just above his open-to-his-navel shirt. Gray chest hairs stick out of his colorful shirt as his little potbelly laps over his beltline. And though he has the “Dunlap’s Disease,” because his belly “done lapped” over the belt, he still has a young woman sitting beside him (pretty, enhanced by plastic-surgery). Their diamond-adorned hands are closed together as she sits with him in his expensive little convertible red sports car. Meanwhile, his spouse of twenty-five years, with less money and fewer toys (whose children are all grown up and gone) is trying to survive and figure out who she is in light of her new reality of the other woman in her ex-husband’s life.
Yes, I know that, in our time, the roles may be reversed with the male being the victim of a wandering cougar-like spouse. Either way, divorce is a preventable tragedy. Jesus talks about this quicksand dilemma, where the law is abused and not fulfilled, and He said that it occurred because of the hardness of men’s hearts. (See Matthew 19:8.) But this is not what God wanted.
Usually a divorce happens when at least one person in the marriage is determined to place his or her own interests over the interest of the family. Sadly, if this is the case, others in the family spend their time reacting to a very bad situation. Jesus approaches divorce as a societal failure, and He tries to remedy a terribly abusive way of acting out the law. He does not say that divorce is an unforgivable sin. He does not put a “scarlet letter” on the lives of divorcees. No, He does not seek to categorize all people who have divorced as low-life sinners. He simply lays out the liberating rules for life in the form of the fulfilled, liberating law of God.
The men of the past committed adultery by abusing the law. They got rid of their wives so they could marry another. And they caused the wives to prostitute themselves or commit adultery. But in the context of today, Jesus does not condemn the one left alone in life to never marry again. That person is innocent because the one who divorced to be with another person had indeed already been unfaithful. In my opinion, should the Creator give that innocent party another opportunity for love and marriage, he or she would be well advised to prayerfully and carefully consider if God is leading that person toward matrimony. However, I really hope such a person would give themselves time to first grieve the loss of their marriage. I hope they would spend a significant amount of time in a biblically based divorce recovery group. AND I really hope they would not start looking for another potential mate shortly after getting a divorce. That would be and absolutely terrible mistake.
I know this is a controversial topic. In fact, when Jesus taught this fulfilled law, it even sparked a few comments from the disciples. Listen to how they responded: “If this is how it is between a husband and a wife, then it’s better to not ever get married” (Matthew 19:10). Notice Jesus’ response: “Not everyone can accept this, but only those to whom it is given” (Matthew 19:11). After hearing the disciples words, I wonder did they make the divorce issue more stringent than did Jesus? Jesus addressed the abuse of the day by providing grace and truth for an abusive legalistic system. Here it is again. Remember to examine the context, context, context!
The challenge, therefore, is to walk on a path of rock-solid living rather than on stumbling blocks that will trip you and trap you in sand. Rock-solid living commits the family and marriage to God each new day. Stumbling-block existing does not. Rock-solid living strengthens society. Stumbling-block existing does not. Rock-solid living occurs when spouses pray to the One from whom love comes—God Almighty—and asks Him to produce love in them and through them. Stumbling-block existing does not. Rock-solid living does not pursue divorce because it is pursuable, but it does pursue the spirit of surrender to God and reconciliation on a daily basis—each spouse to the other. This prevents a buildup of trouble and alienation that could destroy a marriage and a family. Stumbling-block existing does not.
. However, keep in mind it takes two people in a marriage that are committed to successfully weathering life’s storms together. Only then can the marriage maintain a rock-solid infrastructure or underpinning. Only then will it NOT go slip sliding away into matrimonial oblivion when pressured by the swift moving currents of human existence.
Oaths: The Integrity Principle
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.” But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is His footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply “Yes” or “No; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”
Keep in mind that all of this discussion is to get folks to consider being different from the Pharisees, whose righteousness was indeed suspect. Jesus did not say to throw away Leviticus or Deuteronomy, but He said to throw away the “do as I say but not as I do” mind-set. Anyone reading Jesus’s teachings knows full well—as previously stated—that the way those religious leaders abused the law was not healthy. From all I can gather, it would not be uncommon for the religious leaders to indeed break their oaths to the Lord. Or they would swear on all that was holy during their day—heaven, earth, Jerusalem, or by their head—and all the while, they did not seem to intend to keep their word. Looking good, however, seemed to be their modus operandi.
I remember people in my life, who I knew were not telling the truth, saying, “I swear on a stack of Bibles that what I am saying is true.” Why would they do that? They would do that because they were using the courtroom foundation and holy book for validating truth. Back in those days, people would swear in a courtroom “to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me, God.” Some would tell the truth, but the very act of swearing did not guarantee that truth was indeed being told.
In these verses, Jesus reminds us of our KISS acronym again. He says, “Keep it simple, saint.” Be a person of integrity. Be a person who has a rock-solid foundation for living your life. If you agree to something, then simply say yes. If you disagree with something, say no. If you need to pontificate just to say what you mean and mean what you say, then there is one source for that untrustworthy state of being. and that source is the evil one. And the more godless our ways become, apparently, the more complicated and untrustworthy those doing the swearing or writing become. Sadly, we are standing on a lot of verbal quicksand in our culture. The only way to get back to solid ways of doing things is by truly yielding to our loving heavenly Father, through Christ, when considering our relationships with other humans.
Blind and Toothless
” You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
Throughout this journey back to the future, reflecting on the Sermon on the Mount, I keep saying something that is important to foundational living. Keep the context in mind. This passage is not about national issues and unjust actions that can lead to war. It is about a Christ follower truly following Christ so as to live on a solid foundation, and it is about being on that foundation when storms of life assail the Christ follower. It is not true that Jesus did not use force. It is not true that Jesus did not stand for what is right.
For example, in the story of the money changers in the temple, (Matthew 21:12) Jesus took time to create a whip— which He used. He turned over tables as He “drove them out” of the temple. (See John 2:15.) This was not an “eye for an eye” kind of event, but it was an event where Jesus felt just action needed to be taken when abuse was being meted out to those who could not do a lot about it.
Another example would be the “seven woes” that Jesus prophesied when pointing out the sinfulness of those presenting themselves as holy persons. He really had a problem with people who were righteous in their own eyes; yet, they would not practice what they preached. So He very angrily gave them seven warnings—these seven woes. He did so because He wanted to confront their hypocrisy straight on. He wanted there to be no question as to how people should relate to those who said they were holy but were bearing ungodly fruit.
Here is Jesus’s full teaching in Matthew 23:1–35, which includes the seven woes (emphasis mine): He demonstrates that there is definitely a context where “turning the other cheek” is not what is called for. The religious leaders were clearly living and acting unjustly, and Jesus was going to confront them. All too many people were suffering needlessly because of them, and worse still, many would wind up in hell if he did not publicly take this stand. The context of the circumstances required that he confront them.
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to His disciples:
The teacher of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’s seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called “Rabbi” by others. But you are not to be called “Rabbi,” for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth “father,” for you have one Father, and He is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah.
The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! For you shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
“Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar, is bound by that oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside will also be clean.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build the tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started.
“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.”
So let us be like Jesus and recognize there is a time to be courageous, dauntless, daring, and resolute. There is a time and a place for facing down injustice. There is a time to speak out and speak up. There is a time to boldly face down that which is contrary to God’s will. There is a time to remove the mask from those masquerading in the facade of so-called holiness or self exalted pseudosupremacy. There is a time to bring such people down from their ivory-tower house of cards that will one day crash and burn or sink into the quagmire. There is a time when the people of God need to speak a warning against those who would subvert God’s Word. There is a time to be like Jesus and express outrage at that which is outrageous. There is a time to stop the twisting of God’s Word. Just because someone is in a position of authority does not necessarily make everything that person says right. Be appropriate like the Christ of the seven woes. Point it out and shout it out. During such times as these, tough love shines light on the darkness. The context of hypocrisy—no matter what the discipline (psychological, sociological, medical, legal, or spiritual)—provides us the appropriate context in which to boldly proclaim the truth and not go along with the crowd.
The Code of Ethics That Turned The World Upside Down
However, our perspective needs to be different when the issues are personal. Let’s look at rock-solid living when a form of persecution is taking place. We need to learn how to walk out the will of God in daily living when evil people attack us as we serve the Lord. This is the rock-solid teaching Jesus demonstrated, as did the disciples, when the hurricanes of persecution came against them.
Now it is important what they did not do in such cases. They did not practice an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” philosophy. Jesus led the way by His example on the way to the cross. He did not resist those who persecuted Him, because He knew His Father’s will. When they struck Him on one cheek, He simply turned and offered the other. In a nutshell, He simply practiced surrendering to His Father as He loved His persecutors—even to the point of death. He prayed for their forgiveness. The disciples followed their Lord’s example in the years that passed after the Crucifixion. How did their behavior impact the culture? The Gospel spread like wildfire throughout the Middle East and the Greco-Roman world. So many people became Christ followers that they were accused of “turning the world upside down.” (See Acts 17:6.)
I grew up near Birmingham, Alabama, in the 1950s and 1960s. What made the civil rights movement of that day so very powerful was not that its supporters believed in black power. They believed in Jesus, and they followed His teaching. Protesters did not march with weaponry. They did not go around hating anyone. The result was that our culture was changed forever.
As I write these words, the hurricanes of intense persecution are beginning to howl again, and I think this round is going to be worse than any time before. All in the name of Allah, people are destroying churches and Christian families in Syria, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, northern Africa, and elsewhere. They are murdering people in Sudan and Kenya. Some are even beheading people, cutting off hands, and flogging people. They are even crucifying people in Iraq. Why are these men doing this? It is simply because people name the name of Jesus as their Savior and Lord; therefore, we are living in a time when Jesus’s teachings are becoming more and more relevant for the dark hours that are upon the church.
When these spiritual battles or storms rage against the saints of God, how will we respond? What will we do? Will we really listen to Jesus’s teachings? Will we not only listen but will we also live by them? The choice will always be with the church. The choice is with the church now. What will we do? Our choices will demonstrate the kind of foundation upon which we are basing our lives. Pay attention to the context of the circumstances, and—if we allow the Holy Spirit to infuse us with a holy boldness and love that casts out all fear, like our ancestors before us—we might just turn the world upside down.
The Bottom Line of Fulfilling God’s Law: Love For Enemies
You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Not too long ago, I worked for someone who was not the most honest person I have ever met. He was noted for telling one staff person one thing and then telling another staff person another. He had a problem though; he could not remember to whom he told what. Over time, the stress of working with this man caused much angst among the staff, as he seemed to pit one against the other. I allowed myself to get caught up in the tension and wound up becoming a whistle-blower of sorts.
This man and his supervisor came after me with a vengeance. This so-called man of God lied again and again about me and did his best to destroy my good name. I cried out to God much in the same way David had when he was at the end of his rope. In fact, against this man, I prayed some of those psalms that David prayed. Check out Psalms 140–144, and you will get an idea how desperate I became and how difficult the circumstances were. I hired an attorney, and both my wife’s health and my own health were failing. I knew that I had information that I could use against the supervisor and his boss, and I knew of other chaplains prior to me who were willing to finally fight him. Yeah, I know, this sounds like a real Christian crew. This man’s persecution of me went on for months, and I was ready, willing, and able to fight back. But, I have to tell you that I lost a lot when I was fighting those people.
Now for the rest of the story: One night, I was alone pouring my heart out to God. When I had finished my heart’s cry, I became silent. In my heart, I heard these words, “What makes you any better than your Lord, who was wrongfully accused? Stop fighting.” Well, I have to tell you, it did not matter how much I suffered fighting to defend my good name, I didn’t like what I was hearing; however, I was finally quiet enough to surrender to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I made a covenant with God. By His grace and power, I would now forgive those who were acting in an evil way toward me. I decided to bless those who cursed me, do good to those who were acting so hatefully toward me, and to pray for those who were spitefully using me. I decided to tell my wife what I had determined to do the next morning, and I slept very well that night.
Reader what you are about to hear will amaze you. The next morning, as is my custom, I woke up for prayer before daybreak. Later, my wife came down from upstairs and began her quiet time. When we finally connected, I told her something had happened the night before, and I needed to share it with her. But before I began, she told me, “I have something to ask you first.” She had been praying, and something had come to her that she wanted to share with me. So I agreed that she should go first. She asked me, “What makes you any better than the Lord, who was wrongfully accused? Stop fighting.” I could not believe my ears! Then I told her what had happened to me the night before. Yes, God confirmed through Vick, my wife, what our game plan would be.
So here is what happened. From that day forward, I forgave all those who had persecuted me by lying about me and acting deceitfully toward me. Did everything change magically? No these people did not make life easy for me, but they did not know what to do when I simply agreed with my adversary quickly, as instructed in Matthew 5:25. They really did not know what to do with this former fighter who was turning the other cheek. I actually loved them, and by fulfilling God’s law of love, I felt fulfilled. I did so because God gave Vicki and me grace to fulfill His law and the prophetic utterances He gave to us separately and together. On the other hand my responses appeared to unnerve the man who had trouble keeping the truth straight.
As I write this, I think about the bottom line for fulfilling the law, and I remember where Jesus made it very clear in Matthew 22:36–40:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Jesus did not come to do away with the law or the prophets. He came to give us the greatest love by laying down His life, and He demonstrated the two greatest commandments on which “the Law and the Prophets hang” (Matthew 22:40). Yes, the liberating limits of the law are powerful and fulfilling, and the prophets foretell and foretold God’s mysteries; however, the most rock-solid, liberating entity—whether legal or prophetic—is the God of love, from whom love comes and through whom love is imparted. Such liberating power for creating new hearts, new minds, and new lives can be found in no other place.
Allow Jesus to be the Lord of your life. Ask God to put this fulfilled law in your heart and life, as well as the hearts and lives of your descendants (Deuteronomy 30:6), and the Holy Spirit will put your life on a rock-solid foundation so that you can live life “to the full.” (See John 10:10b and Colossians 2:10–11.)