Friday, August 12, 2016


Now that we have license to interpret, let’s start. The interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount is regarded as particularly challenging. It seems to contradict the rest of the Bible in many ways. For example, Jesus’ teaching on giving to the poor:

·       “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:3-4)

Here’s the problem – Jesus just taught the opposite thing:

·       “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

Here, Jesus taught that others should see our “good works.” However, in the other verse, Jesus taught to do good in secret.

How can we resolve this apparent contradiction? We need to look at the context. Jesus’ teaching to give in secret followed His warning about the ungodly motivations of the Pharisees:

·       “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” (Matthew 6:1-2)

The religious leadership had been doing good publicly in order to win the esteem of others and not God. Consequently, “they have received their reward,” consisting of the admiration of others. (Our Lord allows us to have what we want!)

How then should we interpret, “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Clearly, this is an exaggeration (hyperbole), since hands cannot know anything. It suggests that we give in utmost secrecy. However, the “contradiction” seems to still remain between giving secretly and giving so that the world might see our good works.

Is there a possible interpretation that might fit in comfortably with the rest of Scripture? I think so. We should practice giving secretly. Why? Because we are all Pharisees to some degree, and we need to see our hidden motivations! How? By giving secretly! This doesn’t mean that we should not give publicly. However, before all else, need to be humbled, lest we become self-righteous. Perhaps the best path to humility is to see what we are really all about. When we give secretly, we become aware of the pleasures we had obtained by giving publicly, and we find out that we too are self-righteous Pharisees.

Jesus was the supreme “Doctor of the soul.” He understood that we first had to be healed of our self-trust before we could learn to trust God. He first had to expose our soul-sickness before He would do something about it – to confess and repent. The next several verses are also aimed at exposing the rot:

·       “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:5-6)

Once again, we are confronted with something that looks like a contradiction. Jesus instructs us to pray in utmost privacy. However, He often prayed publicly. He even asked His Apostles to pray for Him (Matthew 26:36). Besides, public prayers had always been part of Israel experience. Why then does He insist in the Sermon on the Mount that we pray in complete privacy? So that we can see what our motivations truly are!

We are people pleasers, who are addicted to the praise and approval of men. We need to know this about ourselves. Why? So we would be humbled; so we would cry out to God for His mercy and help; so we would see that it’s all about His righteousness and not at all about ours.

Jesus is the great diagnostician. Diagnosis must precede healing, and we must have this fatal diagnosis in hand. Only then, will we become willing to submit to His sometimes-painful surgery.

Jesus’ teaching on fasting follows the same pattern:

·       “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18)

The deadliest form of pride is spiritual pride. Why? Because spiritual pride disguises itself as piety! In its disguise, this cancer can metastasize throughout the whole loaf of the fellowship infecting all. While love and humility draw people together, pride drives them apart, forcing everyone to wear a mask so that they too can appear spiritual.

Pride is deadly in many ways. It grants us a sense of moral entitlement and enables us to behave in immoral ways. Elsewhere, Jesus demonstrated the close association between pride (self-righteousness) and immorality:

·       “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” (Luke 20:46-47)

Even worse, self-righteousness cuts us off from God’s righteousness and forgiveness:

·       Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.” (Luke 11:52)

How does self-righteousness cut us off from God?

·       And he [Jesus] said to them, “You [Pharisees] are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. (Luke 16:15)

When we practice self-justification we are not seeking the justification or forgiveness that can only come from God. After all, if we can make ourselves acceptable in the eyes of humanity, who needs God.

Jesus has to expose this deadly cancer to the light. How? By requiring that we perform our various spiritual devotions privately! This will expose our self-glorying motivations so that we might be sickened and humbled.

Humility is the foundation upon which the house must be built. If it is built upon pride, the rest of the house is in jeopardy. When I came to the Lord, I was filled with pride. I had assured myself that God had saved me because I was a quality person. Consequently, I looked down on others. I now see that He had to first humble me by showing me the truth about myself so that He could lift me up.

Had I first been lifted up, I would have told myself, “God has blessed me because I deserve it.” However, none of us deserve anything other than judgment. Jesus also made this plain in the “Sermon”:

·       “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:21-22)

These are damning words. All we need to do is to utter “You fool” to deserve eternal judgment. At first glance, this seems so unfair. What wisdom could possibly be buried in such counsel?

This is the same wisdom buried in the Mosaic Law (Deut. 27:26). One little sin will damn us. How unfair, right? Wrong! Why? We are contaminated with sin but refuse to see it. Instead, we convince ourselves that we are spiritually deserving, even if others aren’t. We might realize that we do have a few moral blemishes but we have convinced ourselves that they are nothing compared to our great good and merit.

How does God break through such denial? By demanding sinlessness, and this is something even the hardest heart knows that it cannot attain. We all have called others a “fool” or even worse.

If we really have ears to hear our Lord, any confidence that we might have had in our own goodness, merit, and deservedness should melt away into desperate sobs. And this is the Master-of-our-souls’ intention – to break us down in order to rebuild us into His image.

We can only learn mercy after we have learned our overwhelming need for mercy. We have to learn that we are in a desperate state that can only be addressed by the mercy of our Lord. Only then can we learn mercy towards others. So our Lord lovingly enables us to see our need for His mercy. How? By showing us our unworthiness!

I had boasted to myself that I had never committed adultery. However, our Lord does not allow us to get away with this boast:

·       “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28)

This means that we are all guilty and deserve the worst punishment. That’s both humbling and terrifying, and it should be! It means that our only hope is exactly where it should be – in the mercy of the Lord. Without this mercy, our situation is so serious that Jesus counseled:

·       “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew 5:29-30)

This makes it clear that Jesus’ idea of love is not the idea that we have today. We equate “love” with making-nice. Meanwhile, Jesus equated love with whatever measures it takes to connect us with God. Of course, plucking out the eye and cutting off the hand couldn’t achieve this. However, if these harsh measures could, then they would be a small price to pay in order to not go to hell and to enjoy the Lord eternally.

If Jesus had preached so strenuously against sin, perhaps we too must do so. If love is a matter of preaching to break down the barriers to a saving relationship with our Lord, perhaps we have failed to love as we ought.

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