the weblog of Alan Knox

Missing the message in the details?

Posted by on Jul 8, 2008 in discipleship, scripture | 34 comments

As we’re continuing to study through the Gospel of Matthew, we’ve almost reached the end of the Sermon on the Mount. The first time we studied Matthew 5-7, it was as a complete unit – apparently as Jesus presented it, or at least as Matthew presented it. Since then, we’ve divide the Sermon on the Mount into smaller sections. Although we’ve tried to keep the “big picture” in mind, I can’t help but wonder if we’re missing something by focusing on such small sections of Scripture.

For instance, last Sunday a brother taught from Matthew 7:15-20. Next Sunday, another brother will teach from Matthew 7:21-23. Then, finally, another week from that, someone will complete our study through the Sermon on the Mount by teaching Matthew 7:24-29.

But, notice the continuity in these passages:

Matthew 7:15-20 – False prophets are identified by their fruit (actions).

Matthew 7:21-23 – Actions alone do not make anyone acceptable to God.

Matthew 7:24-29 – The difference between the foolish and wise is that the wise actually DOES what Jesus says, while the foolish just hears (and studies?) what Jesus says.

Fruit… Actions… Deeds… this is a common theme running through the end of the Sermon on the Mount. But, don’t we see this at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, too?

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 ESV)

But, if we only study this passage in little chunks, we may never see the importance of good deeds in the Sermon on the Mount. But, what about the entire Gospel? Is there a point to the entire Gospel that we miss when we read one or two verses, one or two paragraphs, or even one or two chapters at a time? I think so.

Because of this, I’ve been reading entire books at a time – if possible. Or, if I can’t read an entire book in one sitting, then I read as much as I can, and I try to finish the book as soon as possible. It is amazing how much the tone and message of a book changes when you read it as a unit – as it was written and meant to be read. Try it sometime. Or better yet, if you want to see how important this is, the next time you read a newspaper or magazine, just read one paragraph per day… or watch a movie 15 minutes at a time. Do you think you might miss the message?


34 Comments

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  1. 7-8-2008

    Hey Alan,

    I was taking this verse out of context for so long you wouldn’t believe it. I would use the “bad fruit” statement to speak of Christians who were morally wrong. Which I don’t believe this verse is really dealing with morality so to say.

    The other thing is we are going through Bible Study Methods and I have been teaching my wife that we have to be careful at times using the inductive method. Typically we jump right in and start the method on some obscure set of passages and the Holy Spirit NEVER meant for us to read it this way. Actually the early church would have been confused if we were to use our current methods. I told her and a few others I am close with that we first must read the entire book then attempt to use the methods. Mostly we take certain verses find others that sound similar and we build a systematic theology (which isn’t wrong per se) instead of putting ourselves in their situation with their environment and circumstances then reading it as if we were them.

    This is what I have been doing through Ephesians and I have ended up with more questions than answers. I am still struggling through the gifts given and if they exist and if so where does the bible say they ceased. Paul never did. Thanks again for keeping us focused. I have a long way to go but am praying for direction.

  2. 7-8-2008

    I think what you’re saying here is very important, and I think too that even a book or a section of a book may miss the bigger picture when not looked at in the context of an even larger picture, such as Jesus teaching the New Covenant vs. Jesus teaching the Old Covenant.

    If, for example, we were left with only Jesus’ straightforward words in Matt – John, and didn’t have the context of the book of Hebrews or any Paul’s writings or the other epistles, I think we would miss the larger point of much of what Jesus was saying in the Sermon on the Mount.

    To me, reading Matt 5-7 alone is somewhat similar to looking at Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5 and teaching on it without reading Galatians, Hebrews, Romans, etc.

    “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” There just has to be more to it, and through the other epistles we know that Jesus’ words put a spotlight on the problem but were not the final “answer” to the problem. He certainly didn’t help to solve that problem in the rest of Matt 5-7… I think in many places he only magnified it… but later Paul comes along and tells us righteousness is a gift!

  3. 7-8-2008

    Alan

    I would agree that if we don’t keep our mind on the bigger picture of a book we are studying we can allow ourselves to miss the forest for the trees. Two things I have found helpful to me are:

    1) Reading the whole book as I’m studying it. I am working on Matthew myself right now so I am reading it continuously as I am studying a section or verse.
    2)Reading lots of book introductions before I really begin working in a book of the Bible.

    Of course, I’m sure everybody and their cousin Frank has already thought of these.

  4. 7-8-2008

    There are two schools of thought. One of my Bible college professors used to discourage us from “reinventing the wheel” in study. In other words, read the commentaries and see what’s already been said before trying to interpret a passage.

    I didn’t agree with it at the time, and I still don’t. The other school of thought says to do your study, and then compare what conclusions you have drawn with those who have gone before.

    I find this to be helpful on at least a couple of levels.

    1) Your opinion of the passage is less biased going into the study. (It’s hardly unbiased, but you can decrease the chance of being over-conditioned toward or against particular interpretations.)

    2) You are better equipped to evaluate the merit of the commentators’ conclusions if you have already spent time with the passage yourself. They may shed some light on it that you hadn’t thought of, or you may find that you don’t agree with their conclusions. But either way, you’ve come to your conclusions through study and not just by reading someone else’s work.

  5. 7-8-2008

    Lionel,

    I’d rather read people who still have plenty of questions than those who say they have it all figured out. If God were so easy to figure out, then I don’t think he’d be God.

    Joel,

    One of things that I keep pointing out to people is that in Matthew, Jesus makes alot of claims (both of himself and of kingdom people) without answering the how and why questions. Of course, we want all the answers, and like you said, we have to look for the answers – when they’re given – in other parts of Scripture. I think it is also important to tackle the questions that Jesus does raise and answer in Matthew before we jump to other questions (like how and why) that we want answered.

    Joe,

    I agree. Reading the whole book, over and over again, is so important. It is much more important to me now than has ever been expressed in any class that I’ve taken.

    Steve,

    Yes, I’ve heard too many “sermons” where the commentaries were preached more than Scripture. The commentaries are helpful – sometimes.

    -Alan

  6. 7-8-2008

    Alan,

    I like what you said about reading people who still have lots of questions rather than thinking they have it all figured out. I think there’s a lot of value in that.

    On the other end of that scale, I see people today trying to figure out many things, such as many of Jesus’ questions and statements, that appear to me to have now been answered (after the cross, burial and resurrection).

    There’s certainly plenty to work through, but I guess what I see is people unnecessarily struggling through issues of the Law and the Sermon on the Mount, when with our current view (with all of the later explanatory epistles having now been written – an advantage those in Jesus’ day didn’t have), it appears that much of it has been answered by Paul and the others, and there’s a lot that’s simply no longer necessary to try to tackle. It’s not that we’ve gone looking for the answers. God has simply given them to us. :)

    One other thought… and this is something that I’ll be first to say I’m guilty of. Forget for a moment the battle over sermons vs. scripture. Don’t we tend to think higher of the Scriptures than of the Person they testify of? We can read the Bible, and study and analyze it, and reread and restudy and reanalyze, over and over again, all along missing Jesus. As one friend likes to say, we tend to focus more on the manual (Bible) than on E-Manuel (Jesus).

    How did the early church get along without their New Testaments? ;)

  7. 7-8-2008

    By the way, I was by no means trying to put down the idea of Bible study, nor making light of the advantage that we have today with all the scriptures neatly packaged for us to read and analyze and study. :) Just stressing how easy it is to substitute them for Life.

  8. 7-8-2008

    Joel,

    There’s a couple of trains of thought when it comes to passages of Scripture like the Sermon on the Mount. If it was only meant for Old Covenant believers, then when would Matthew include it in his Gospel. By the time he wrote his Gospel, Matthew did know the outcome. He was not confused about what Jesus was said. Note that I don’t think that Jesus was telling us to keep the law in the Sermon on the Mount. I think he was teaching his listeners and us the opposite, that we can’t keep the law.

    I agree completely about missing God in the words on the page. Scripture should point us to God – he is the ultimate end.

    -Alan

  9. 7-9-2008

    Hi Alan,

    I agree that there are a couple (or more) trains of thoughts when it comes to passages of scripture like the sermon on the mount. I’ve arrived at my own thoughts, but yet I keep myself open to hearing other thoughts.

    In regards to Matthew including the SOTM in his account, while he already knew the outcome… Perhaps he included it for similar reasons for including the story of the rich young ruler in chapter 19.

    If knowing the final outcome would keep Matthew from including Old Covenant teachings, then why would he include Jesus’ encounter with this man, in which He told him, “if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments,” and then proceeded to name a few of the commandments… and in the end let the man go away sorrowful…… instead of just giving him the simple truth that Paul would later give us: the good news of salvation apart from works.

    My point is… the rich young ruler was left to struggle with this, just as the people who heard the SOTM were left to struggle with a lot of Old Covenant/Law issues. But we, having “the rest of the story,” don’t have to deal with those things because we’ve been given the “answers.”

    Again, I really am open to other trains of thoughts on this, but right now this is simply where I’ve been camping out for quite some time and nothing else has really shifted my thinking on this.

  10. 7-9-2008

    I have so much more respect for people that are full of questions about this walk with Jesus. I don’t think you can truly be following Jesus without having questions. Those that don’t have them are following a religion, and not God in my opinion.

  11. 7-9-2008

    Alan. Good points, although I disagree with you on the interpretation on 7:21-23. Jesus says that only those doing (works, deeds!) the will of God will entering the kingdom. It doesn´t matter if the claim big miracles (Todd Bentley?), if they are not doing the will of God, acting on the words of Jesus in the sermon on the mount (verse 24). I think it´s impossible to read the lutheran version of the gospel into the sermon on the mount, if that was what your interpretation was about. But maybe I misunderstood you?
    /Jonas Lundström
    http://blog.bahnhof.se/wb938188

  12. 7-9-2008

    Joel,

    I don’t think we’re far apart in our positions here. I don’t think keeping the ethical teaching in the SOTM will make anyone righteous. However, I do believe that a righteous person will demonstrate these ethical characteristics.

    Mark,

    It is interesting to me that most religious systems seem to have the answers to all questions. This seems a little convenient to me. How can our systems answers questions that Scripture never asks or answers?

    Jonas,

    Again, I think we’re probably closer on Matt 7:21-23 than it appears. This is the only interpretation that I gave of Matt 7:21-23: “Actions alone do not make anyone acceptable to God”. You also indicated that it takes doing the will of God to be acceptable to God. I don’t disagree. I would include within “doing” the will of God the phrase in vs. 23: “I never knew you” – spoken by God.

    -Alan

  13. 7-10-2008

    Alan,

    I do think we agree on more than we disagree on. My contention with Christians studying the SOTM as an aide in doing the legitimate “do’s” of the Christian life is that I don’t think Jesus’ sermon here was meant for believers in the first place.

    He does say a lot of things that Christians have come to depend on as principles for Christian living, but as I look at it as a whole I personally think He is making an entirely different point.

    I fully agree that righteous people, as they grow in grace, will “do” more and more that lines up with righteousness. But again, I don’t think the point of the SOTM was for the purpose of Christians studying it to find out how to live the righteous life. The reason for that, again, is the entire context. Jesus says things such as, “whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.” “Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.” “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 so many other things like that.

    What I’m getting at is that I really don’t believe the SOTM was meant as instructions for Christian living. Again, I agree that no one can be made righteous by living by the words of the SOTM, but I think perhaps our disagreement would be on whether or not the SOTM is meant as a word to the righteous (those who have been made righteous through the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice) as a study that will show us how to live.

    All of that said, the key that has been brought up here is vital… that we keep asking questions and that we don’t think we know it all. I love discussing things like this, even if a perfect agreement isn’t reached.

  14. 7-10-2008

    Alan, Joel. It seems we have a spectrum of different views here, with myself on one end and Joel on the other and Alan in between?

    I hear Alan saying to Joel that Jesus is teaching in SOM that we cannot keep the law. This is not at all what I see. I see Jesus (as a rabbi) giving the true interpretation of the law, and expecting his disciples to follow his teaching (and thereby the law, in a fuller way). In Mattwew 28 Jesus tells his disciples to go into the world, making disciples, baptizing them and teaching the to obey everything Jesus has commanded them. This, to me, would include the instructions in SOM.

    Joel. Are you saying that we don´t have to live the way Jesus taught?

    The early christians, even Paul!, shared the view that the SOM were normative for every disciple. This can be seen in nearly all the authors of the NT, and in early texts like Didache, Ignatius, Justine, Iraeunesus, Tertullianus, Origenes etc. Only with Constantine etc did the “church” accept members that didn´t have to obey Jesus and through Luthers interpretation of Paul, this has become established dogma within protestantism. But I stick we the early Jesus movement on this one… ;)
    /Jonas Lundström
    http://blog.bahnhof.se/wb938188

  15. 7-10-2008

    This can be seen in nearly all the authors of the NT….

    Jonas, could you give a few representative references from different authors of the NT?

  16. 7-10-2008

    Matthew: 7:24, 28:20
    Luke: 6:46, Acts 3:22-23
    “John”: 14:21, 15:10+11-17, 1 John 2:4, 3:23-24, 1 John 5:2, 2 John v6, Rev 12:17
    Paul: Rom 6:17, 12:17-21+13:9-10, Kol 3:17
    James: 1:22, chap 2
    Peter: 1 Pet 2:21-23, 1 Pet 1:2

    These, in my view, is a few texts that seems to say that believers must obey God and God´s commandments, as they have been interpreted through Jesus teaching and example.
    /Jonas

  17. 7-10-2008

    Hey Jonas,

    Let me add a spin on it. What if I say it is for Christians but Jesus isn’t interpreting the Law He is bringing a “new” Law. That being the Law of Christ that Paul continually refers to while simultaneously saying that He is not under “law” (1 Corinthians 9).

    Jesus never says “the Law says ___, and now I am interpreting as ___”. In each statement He says “but I say”. Christ is a New Law Giver. Not an Old Law interpreter. Christ’s law is higher not a mere interpretation or clearing things us. I believe this is why the New Covenant is radically different from the Old.

    However many good men disagree on this and I just happen to agree with those you may disagree with. So I believe as you do in the fact that the SOTM is for believers but I don’t think this is a restatment of the Old Covenant but ushering in of the New Covenant both were ratified with blood. After Moses read and the people agreed he sprinkled them both. After Jesus finished, He offered Himself and sprinkled both with His blood which is far more superior than the blood that ratified the Old.

  18. 7-10-2008

    Jonas, are you absolutely sure we’re to follow the teachings of Jesus in the SOTM? If so, how well are you doing? I’ve often thought of going through Jesus’ teachings and listing them all out, just for a different perspective on things. I’ve started with Matthew 5 on my blog.

    To answer your question to me (“Joel. Are you saying that we don´t have to live the way Jesus taught?“)… What I’m saying is that it’s impossible for us to do that… and that that was essentially the point of the whole SOTM.

    Just because Jesus was teaching people to follow His words, doesn’t mean He thought they were actually going to follow them! (I’ll qualify this, sort of, in a moment). And just because Jesus said, “if you do what I say, you will be like a house built upon a rock,” doesn’t mean that anyone would ever actually be able to keep His teachings!

    Think about it… Jehovah God Almighty Himself gave us some major teachings, knowing that people would never follow them! He gave the 10 commandments, and then He also gave lots of other precepts and rules (something like 613 total), in which He often said things like, “do this and you will live.” But the Psalms and prophets are full of the message that the people did not do what they were supposed to do. “There is none righteous, no not one,” they said. “They did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD.” (Heb 8:9, quoting from Jeremiah (?)).

    Along comes Jesus, before putting Himself on the cross for our sins, before becoming the mediator of a new covenant through the shedding of His blood (not through us following His teachings), and He puts a magnifying glass on the Law and the prophets. In a sense He says to the people:

    “If you really think you’re doing ok, follow this. Still think you’re doing ok?”

    Paul called the law “the ministry of death” and “the ministry of condemnation.” He had good reason to do so! And he further explained the purpose of the Law: “Whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God” (Rom 3:19).

    I’ve come to see the SOTM as a long mouth-stopping speech. The Law wasn’t meant to be what we live by, but rather was the setup for a much greater covenant, in which we give up our whole sense of justifying ourselves by what we do, and give ourselves fully over to mercy and grace! Paul said we had to die to the law in order to be married to Christ. We receive righteousness as a gift, and we walk in it, not through following the Law, but by getting to know the Beloved One who has come to reside in us.

    The obedience of a lover towards her Beloved isn’t based upon duty, but rather upon delight. We grow in obedience as we grow in grace and as we get to know the Person, not the instructions. (I’m not saying that various ‘instructions’ are there for no reason at all, just that our focus is a living Being, not an instruction book).

    I’m not trying to get anyone to accept all that I’m saying here, but I can tell you for sure that if life in Christ is about continuously studying Jesus’ words and trying to apply them, then I personally can’t handle the Christian life! There’s got to be a better way! (and I think there is). :)

  19. 7-10-2008

    I’m enjoying this discussion, because I think it is a very important discussion for the church.

    Perhaps I can help us direct our discussion by asking a couple of questions:

    1) What is the relationship between faith and works and righteousness and salvation?

    2) Is it possible to have saving faith without works?

    -Alan

  20. 7-10-2008

    Hey Alan,

    1. I believe they are all interwoven (Eph 2:10, Romans 6-8, the whole epistle of 1 John)

    2. Not according to James and the 1 John. Also I believe that the power of the New Covenant (Hebrews 8, Jer 31) promises us fruit! This is where the Old Covenant failed (2 Corinthians 3, Hebrews 9). Paul also promises the Philippians that it is God who works in us to do His works. This is why He indwells us and this is why Christ promises that HIS Church would not fail. So my answer in short is no and does who do believe such things bring a false dichotomy between Justification and Regeneration.

    All stated as facts but these are my convictions from scripture and I know some good brothers (my home church) that are on the other side of this arguement. But I still believe they minimize the New Covenant and the power it brings

  21. 7-11-2008

    JOEL. Well (being a postmodern…), I think we can´t be absolutely sure of anything… But for me, the only reason I follow Jesus, is that I found his example and his teaching attractive. If the narrow path wasn´t narrow, but impossible, I wouldn´t follow Jesus, I think.

    You are right that we´re not doing well. That´s the reason I think the true followers of Christ is a small minority among those calling themselves christian. Only those walking the way of God in a way that makes them salt and light in the world, are Jesus´s true disciples.

    I not only think it´s possible to follow the teachings of Jesus, I think it´s an easier way to live! (Mt 11:28-30) But it´s only possible through Gud´s grace and God´s spirit and together with others. We need training, though (being disciples!), and often we fail and therefore need to ask God for forgiveness. But it´s not impossible.

    Your way to view this seems to be the classical lutheran view. (Have you read Luther´s comments on SOM?)

    LIONEL. I hear what you say, and maybe I agree, even though I would add that there´s also continuity between the old and the new (renewed) testaments. I agree that Jesus goes way beyond that given to Moses. Without Jesus we cannot understand the OT. Jesus is the true image of God, not Moses. We see only Jesus (Matthew 17). But still, Jesus´s words echo the Torah and the seeds to almost everything he says can be found in the (old) law.

    ALAN. I think what Paul talks about in Romans and Galatians is the issue of how jews and heathens can live together in God´s renewed people, without the heathens becoming jews. The “works” hear is not God deeds in general, but things like circumsicion and maybe the purity laws. Paul is basically saying that the heathens can become incorporated into God´s people (Israel) through the Messiah´s faithfulness, without being circumcised and stuff. (this is called in the theological world, “the new perspective on Paul” (see James Dunn and others)

    But living in faith without having love/doing good is not possible.

    /Jonas L
    sorry for being a little long in this comment…

  22. 7-11-2008

    Alan,

    Good questions.

    Lots of places to go with all this, but I’ll start by saying that it used to be when I looked at James’ whole idea of “faith without works is dead,” I thought of “works” as doing the things of the law, and being careful to follow various New Testament principles. Not that I now exclude various principles from the works that we display as Christians, but I’ve come to see it at little differently, for various reasons.

    I do think that faith that is real, and genuine, will naturally be shown by the things we do. I think of Hebrews 11 often. If you look at these Old Testament saints, who were justified by faith, you see a lot of people who in many ways were pretty messed up (Abraham and Noah, for example, are said to have been justified by faith but yet had some pretty rotten behavior throughout their lives of faith).

    But the point about their works is that their works weren’t a matter of feeding the poor, visiting those in jail, giving a cup of water to a thirsty person, husbands loving their wives, etc (How’s this for a faithful, loving husband: Abram had his wife tell Pharaoh that she was his sister, to save his own behind – and yet he was justified by faith).

    But back to the point, it wasn’t the exact words of Jesus or the various New Testament principles through which they were known for their faith.

    I personally think we tend to “over-study” the various NT principles. They can easily become works to us in a way in which faith is absent, because our focus becomes what we’re supposed to do and not do, rather than simple faith and trust in our Father, and in just knowing Him.

    So yeah, I think faith and works are related, but I think if our focus is “faith,” the rest will naturally work itself out.

  23. 7-11-2008

    Jonas,

    I’m not so sure there’s a continuity between the Old and New Covenants.

    Heb 8:7-8, 13

    For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. 8 Because finding fault with them [the people], He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah… 13 In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

    There was a major fault with the Old Covenant: While God kept His part, people didn’t keep their part. The New Covenant wasn’t going to be like the Old. It was going to be based not upon people keeping up with a certain amount of works, but rather people trusting in the shed blood and death of the Testator, Jesus (Heb 9:16-17).

    I also wonder about your application of Matt 11:28-30. Indeed Jesus said come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest… My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

    As you read through Matthew 5-7, do you really think those words of Jesus provide rest from labor and heavy burdens? “Rest for your souls?” (v. 29).

    Matt 5-7 is just the beginning of what I would consider much of Jesus’ Old Covenant teachings… or better said, His teachings that drive home the point of the Law/Old Covenant.

    When one speaks of true disciples/followers of Jesus Christ, I suppose one ought to start with oneself. Have you actually read the rest of what Jesus said to people and do you follow it yourself?

    If you have lusted, if you have sinned with your right eye, have you gouged it out? Have you cut off your right hand? Are you perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect?

    The SOTM is just the beginning.

    Jesus was asked, “How can I inherit eternal life?”

    “You know the commandments.”

    “These I’ve kept.”

    “You still lack… go sell all you have and give to the poor.”

    Have you done that? Do you plan to follow Jesus’ teachings?

    If Jesus has told you anything in the dark, are you speaking it in the light? And if He’s told you anything in the ear, are you preaching it on the housetops? (Matt 10:27)

    Have you forgiven everybody of all their sins against you? Otherwise, according to Jesus, your Father in heaven will not forgive you.

    And so on and so on. I’m sorry, but I don’t have enough time right now to really make my point with many examples, but in the end the point is that all of this has been taken care of by the blood of Jesus, in a NEW covenant.

    We’ve been forgiven of all trespasses (Rom 4:7-8, Col 2:13). We don’t need to sell all we have and give to the poor because now we understand that that’s exactly what Christ did for us. Anyway, gotta get back to work for now.

  24. 7-12-2008

    Joel. Well, I profoundly disagree with what you say. The way you put it, Jesus died so that we can be free not to obey God and live in love. I definitely think that this is never in a single instance taught in the NT. Even Hebrews teaches that we need to obey God (10:36, 11:33, 12:14-, 12:28, 13:21, 10:26, 8:10, 9:14, 6:12, 5:9 etc). In the New Testament the laws are written in people´s hearts, we´re not living law-less lives.

    Regarding SOM, yes, I think it´s easier to be faithful in marriage, than to lust for others, and that truthfulness is easier than using oaths, and that trusting God is easier than collecting treasures on earth etc. To live this way is to live in line with the destiny of the universe.

    As to whether there are people that actually obeys Jesus, yes, I think they exist. I know people that actually live in forgiveness, that don´t pile up things on earth, that have made a clear break with Mammon/riches (regarding Matt 5:48 I think “perfect” is a wrong translation of the greek word. It should be either “mature” or “non-discriminating” or something like that) and who confesses to a brother when they have been staring lustfully upon the wrong person etc.

    I would recommend breaking with the system, joining a true church and beginning to follow Jesus. Only in his foot-steps can lasting peace, love and joy be found!
    /Jonas

  25. 7-12-2008

    Hi Jonas,

    I think it’s perhaps what you read into what I said, rather than what I actually said, that causes you to think I’m talking about lawlessness and disobedience.

    I’m not saying that at all.

    What I am saying is that the way to walk in godliness has nothing to do with keeping the law. The “law and the prophets” made it perfectly clear that nobody could do it. And Romans, Galatians, Hebrews, etc, explain the purpose of the law very well.

    As one example of many, the “father of faith,” Abraham, did not have the ten commandments, nor the Levitical laws, nor the sermon on the mount. He walked by faith. Man was not put on the earth to walk by law. He chose the “law tree” (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil), and it’s the very choice God did not want him to make. The actual law came 2500 years after Adam, not as a way to get man to finally start living right (if that was the purpose, it failed miserably… and continues to fail miserably), but rather to impute sin to man (to charge the guilt of mankind’s sin to his account). (Rom 5:13)). Christ came, not to get man to start living by the law or a by man’s own ability to be obedient, but to die for the guilt of man that the law had charged him with, and in His death, burial and resurrection, to impute righteousness to man’s account (Rom 4:22-5:2)).

    Christ’s life has now been deposited in us, joined with ours, made one spirit with ours (1 Cor 6:17), and through His life (not through laws) we have victory over sin. The law is written in our minds and on our hearts, not as something we diligently try to follow, but rather as the fulfillment of the life of Christ in us. We are found to be perfectly righteous because the Law is fulfilled in us, even when we’ve never done a single thing to merit it.

    As Paul said in Romans 7, I thought the law was to be life to me, but I only found it to be death. “When the commandment came, sin revived and I died.” “For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me.”

    I come to life, and I experience true life, not when I find myself able to keep a bunch of commandments, but when, as Paul said in Philippians 3, I count as loss all my efforts at obedience and law-keeping, and instead I trust the life of Christ in me, and be found in Him alone. His life can be fully trusted to produce the fruit of righteousness… but only when I let go of trying to produce it myself.

    As for the definition of “perfect,” I agree that the Greek word is translated not so well in English. However, whatever the proper translation, Jesus said, “Be (perfect) as your Father in heaven is (perfect). “As your Father in heaven is…” is a pretty tall order, no matter what the definition! Which is essentially what the whole law is.

  26. 7-12-2008

    Jonas,

    You don’t argue well my friend and to tell Joel that he is not in a “true church” seems to be a low blow brother. I understand your frustation but when someone disagrees with you regardless of how strong that conviction is you must be very careful not to make such a condemning statement as that. I actually agree more with Joel than I do you and I believe I am in a true church. Because there is only one Church purchased by the blood of the Lamb in which ALL believers were baptized in. This is as long as they agree with the essentials. Death, Burial, Ressurecion and Diety of Christ and salvation by faith through grace (regardless of how that faith was attained monergistically or synergestically)

  27. 7-13-2008

    Lionel. I see your point but I don´t think the “who is judging who”-discussion is fruitful. You´d probably be “judging” me if you knew all of my convictions. To express a conviction, even if it´s severly critizing others, is not to “judge”, at least it´s not what Jesus spoke out against. And it´s impossible for me anyway to follow Jesus instructions… just kidding ;)

    Joel. This discussion seems to be leading into the big and complex law-question. I´m going to be without computer for some days, so I cannot continue. I just encourage you to look into other interpretations of Paul than the Lutheran one. Key words: “new perspective”, James Dunn, EP Sanders, NT Wright etc. But my main concern was with your statement that “I really don’t believe the SOTM was meant as instructions for Christian living”. It´s my firm conviction that you are horribly wrong in this. And I think that you really need a great big theory outside of the NT to interpret the SOM this way. Actually, I think Matthew 28:16-20 is enough to “prove” (well, my proof don´t seem to work well) this.
    Blessings! God loves us all and will never ever quit doing that. No matter what.
    /Jonas

  28. 7-13-2008

    Jonas,

    Like I said earlier, if you say Matt 5-7 is a matter of teachings for Christians to follow, then I look for you to lead the way in not just saying it, but doing it. I’m guessing that right now you’re still disobediently typing with both your hands and looking at the screen with both your eyes, but as you truly dig into obeying all that Jesus taught, that will no longer be the case. ;) After all, if Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden is light, and by that He is referring to living by the SOTM, then it shouldn’t be a problem for you.

    As for the question of the law in this discussion, I’m actually staying on topic here because the original topic was looking at context instead of looking only at little chunks.

    Jesus brings up “the law,” as well as many other things such as “righteousness,” being cast into hell, adultery, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” being “perfect” as your Father in heaven is perfect, and so many other things that have a lot of light shone on them in the rest of the books of the N.T. and I personally think it’s very unwise to look at it all apart from the context of a more complete view of the New Covenant. That includes, in a big way, Paul’s revelations about the Law.

    We all may not agree on everything, but I think it’s a worthy part of the discussion. And it all goes hand in hand, from my point of view, with Alan’s two questions that he asked 2 or 3 days ago.

    And by the way, I don’t mind at all if you ‘severely criticize’ my views, but I would say that implying that I’m not part of “a true church” and that I’m not a “follower of Jesus” bears absolutely no fruit in the discussion.

  29. 7-13-2008

    Joel/Lionel. I now feel that my last words in my previous comment (“I recommend…”) both was unnecessary harsh and said without the love and care that I would have wanted. It was not my intention to present an evaluation of Joels life or church, which I know absolutely nothing about. I meant it in a more general way; to anyone that has not decided whether to turn to Jesus and follow his way together with others, I recommend this. I don´t know if or to whom in this discussion this might apply. I hereby confess my mistake, repent and ask for forgiveness. I´m truly sorry! Ok?

    Joel. I also agree that the law is something that has to do with this, though I think we shouldn´t forget that it´s Jesus´s words we´re talking about. One could argue (as Lionel did?), that Jesus is not interpreting the law (which you and I seem to agree on?), but bringing in a new law.

    As to my hands, I frankly don´t understand your argument. Are you implying that Jesus meant this literally? To me it´s obvious that Jesus is using metaphor/hyperbolic speach, and I think most scholars and many others would agree with me. That said, I do try to radically remove stuff from my life that might lead me to sin and I recommend it to others. Cutting of the cable to internet might be a good thing to do for some men, I suppose…

    As to my many many failings – when I look at other women than my wife with the intention of sexually longing for them, which happens now and then, I regard this as a sin and confesses it to a brother in my church who releases me from my sin in the name of the Lord.
    /Jonas

  30. 7-13-2008

    Jonas,

    It’s my thought that every word was meant literally. In exactly the same way that the punishment for adultery was literally stoning.

    And indeed it’s Jesus’ words we’re talking about. In exactly the same way that the Law (that Paul says we had to die to in order to be married to Christ) was literally God’s words.

    Instead of leaving you to figure out what I’m saying, I’m saying that there are two major distinct covenants in the Bible – both of them being The Word of God, and both of which Jesus taught, but not both of them applying to Christians. Again, that’s why I think it’s of uttermost importance to look at both The Law (God’s word) and Jesus’ sermon (God’s word) in the light of the entire New Covenant (God’s word).

    I’ve probably made that point enough, so I’ll stop repeating myself from this point on.

  31. 7-14-2008

    Joel. Do you accept my apology? I don´t why you ignore it, this is important to me.

    As with every other person, Jesus is often using parables, humor, sarcasm, figures of speak etc. Won´t you acknowledge this? Or do you believe that disciples are salt, light and a city on the hill, that Jesus is a road, that Jesus talks about carrying good fruit and that every believer has a tree in their eyes? This is a very strange way to interpret the Bible, and it´s not biblical.

    And even if it was meant literally, Jesus said IF your right eye etc. If it´s not the eye that leads you away, but other things, there´s no point in ripping your eye out. And I don´t think it´s the eye that´s the problem, but other stuff.

    I still wonder what you do with Matthew 28:20. Please give me a decent interpretation of this verse from your point of view.

    I will now be going away and won´t have access to a computer in a week.
    /Jonas

  32. 7-14-2008

    Hi Jonas,

    I didn’t mean to ignore your apology. As I previously said, it wasn’t a big deal to me. Apology accepted.

    As for Matt 28:20, I’ve been trying to imply my answer in all that I’ve said, but I know I’ve not been clear. Now, I said I wouldn’t repeat myself but I have to in order to answer your question. As I’ve said, I believe all of God’s word – Jesus’ words, the Law, etc – must be looked at in the light of the entire New Covenant. I really do think we are “missing the message in the details.”

    When Jesus is speaking to the eleven disciples after his resurrection and says, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you,” I must look at that in the light of the entire New Covenant. It wouldn’t make sense that He’d be referring to His Old Covenant teachings that don’t line up with His last Will and Testament.

    We could look at so much more than putting out an eye or cutting off a hand. How about this – Did Jesus’ disciple, Peter, teach all of what Jesus taught in the sermon on the mount?

    In Acts 15, the matter of Gentile converts came up, and some Christian Pharisees “rose up, saying ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.'”

    Did Peter speak up and say, “Yeah, in the sermon on the mount, Jesus told us to not break the commandments, and to do them and to teach them, and that our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees (not to mention believing Pharisees)!

    Rather, Peter said, among a few other words, “Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?”

    You’d think perhaps Jesus would’ve appeared immediately and said, “HEY… don’t forget what I commanded in my sermon on the mount!” :)

    There’s so much more to look at when comparing Jesus’ words in the sermon on the mount with the rest of the new covenant. Again, all I’m saying is, whether you agree with my overall interpretation or not, I think it’s wise to look at all of this in that bigger context.

  33. 7-14-2008

    I realize that Jonas and I have taken over this post. :) Lionel, I’ve appreciated hearing from you, as well as the few others who have joined in, and I guess I was hoping some others would join in too. I don’t wish to hog this any longer, so I think I’ll go ahead and step out.

  34. 7-14-2008

    Joel,

    I actually agree and disagree. I do believe that the Sermon on the Mount is for Christains, though I think I have said this already. However I agree that the fullness of the New Covenant had not been recognized by the Apostles. We see this quite early in both Acts 8 and 10 when the Jews are astounded by the salvation of the Samaritans and Gentiles. I believe that the New Covenant takes Old Covenant believers and New Covenant believers and brings them into one body which is the Church. But I also believe that the New Covenant is actually New! It isn’t a continuation of a Covenant of Grace. It is radically opposed to the Old Covenant given on Sinai. Not some mere extension. The New Covenant is radically New. It is a very GRACIOUS covenant purchased by God in the Flesh. While the Old Covenant was a burdensome Covenant and was ratified with goats blood. The New Covenant is so gracious that it caused the believer in Rome to ask “can I continue in Sin that grace may abound”. It is truly easy believism at its best, because it is God who causes us to believe through the Spirit (a little Calvinistic lingo there).

    So as it relates to the SOTM, I do believe that is for believers. The problem is no one can keep it! No one, so it agains brings us back to the feet of our master beggin for mercy! Christ in the SOTM makes the Old Covenant look like a day at the beach! So we don’t look at the SOTM and start checking off the list (if you do you really need another Christian to evaluate your righteousness)we look at it and say “whew, thank God for Christ”!