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Saturday, February 27, 2016

Sincere Giving (Matt. 6:1-4)

Outline: Matthew 6:1-4
  1. Jesus' general warning (v.1)
  2. Giving from impure motives  (v.2)
  3. Giving from pure motives  (vv.3-4)
Summary: With unique authority, Jesus has resurrected the original intent of God's word from under the rubble of false teaching (vv.16-48), showing us that we display God's character when we radically obey the original intent of God's word (5:9, 45, 48).  But just when we are freshly inspired to radically obey God's word and display God's character.  Just when we are ready to shine.  Jesus hits us with a sobering warning: "Beware of doing the right things from the wrong motives!" People often separate the quality of the act from the quality of the motive, but God does not.  Jesus warns us that God will not reward an obedient act if that act was fueled by wrong motives.   It’s one thing to do the right thing; it’s another thing to do the right thing for the right reason.  Motives matter to God--big time!  To illustrate His warning, Jesus gives three common examples of acts of righteousness that can be done out of impure motives: giving, praying, and fasting.  Here we consider Jesus' first example--giving.  Our giving should be fueled not by a craving to be seen and praised by others, but by a desire to be seen and rewarded by God.  Heavenly rewards are for those who desire the Father's gaze more than people's praise.  

Discussion Questions:
  • How would you paraphrase the general warning given in v.1?
  • How does v.1 build a bridge between chapters 5 and 6?
  • What is hypocrisy?  What is it about the activity described in v.2 that is hypocritical?
  • What reward does a hypocrite receive?
  • What does it mean to not let "your left hand know what your right hand is doing"?
  • What are some strategies for giving discreetly and secretly? 
  • What dangers may come from focusing solely on these strategies?
  • What does it mean to have pure motives?  What fuel should drive our acts of obedience?
  • Reflect on this statement: "Rewards will be received or revoked depending on the sincerity of the motives fueling the work."
Application Questions:
  • What motives have been fueling my obedience as of late? What should be fueling me?
  • When I get irritated or bitter due to being unappreciated, what might be amiss in my heart?
  • How often am I aware of my motives and not just my actions?
  • How much do my motives matter to God?
Prayer Points:
  • Confess to God any impure motives that have tainted your good works.
  • Praise Jesus for shedding his blood to wash away your bad works and your bad motives 
  • Praise Jesus for dying on the cross so that His good works and His pure motives would be credited to your account.
  • Ask God to purify your motives and help you do the right things for the right reasons.
  • Beg the Holy Spirit give you the desire to attract God's gaze more than people's praise.  

The Heart of the Law

As we've been studying Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, we've learned that Jesus is teaching the law how it was always to be taught.
He isn't abolishing the law.
Or contradicting the law.
Or adding to the law.
Or even teaching "hidden" things from the law. 
Jesus taught the true "heart of the law." The Pharisees missed it completely. They focused on external obedience to rules and in doing so they misunderstood most important part of the law: the heart

It really isn't difficult to see that the law focuses on the heart primarily. For instance, a quick word search for "heart" in Deuteronomy shows it's mentioned 43 times

Notice the gospel in this word study:
  • God has set His heart in love on His people
  • God has required complete obedience of our hearts to Him. His word is to be hidden in our hearts, loved completely, and fully obeyed with joy.
  • But our hearts have a severe problem. Our hearts are stubborn and hard and fearful and unloving and prideful and wayward and worship other gods. We need a changed heart.
  • The solution? God promises that by His sovereign power He will change our hearts so that we can fully obey and love Him!
Deuteronomy gives us the good news of the promise of changed hearts, and Jesus fulfills this by being the man with the perfect heart that loved God and obeyed God fully. By His death for our sins He now changes our sinful hearts by giving us His heart, His Holy Spirit, and now we can live as the law always intended: out of genuine obedience from the heart. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Jesus' Teaching on Love of Enemies (Matt. 5:43-48)

Outline: Matthew 5:43-48
  1. The Pharisees' take on how enemies should be treated (v.43)
  2. Jesus' take on how enemies should be treated (vv.44)
  3. Why should we love our enemies (vv45-48)?
Summary: Jesus' fulfillment of the OT should cause us to excel in our obedience to the OT, which is what Jesus again calls us to do in His sixth and final example of genuine obedience that exceeds the surface "obedience" of the scribes and pharisees (5:20).  Just when we thought the call to obedience could not be any more demanding, Jesus stretches our love to cover even our enemies.  Jesus teaches us not only to avoid returning evil for evil (vv.38-42) but to return good for evil. The pharisees taught that the law justified hating our enemies (v.43).  Jesus, however, recovers the true direction of the law by teaching us that we are to go out of our way to do good and show tangible acts of kindness even to those who seek our harm (v.44; cf. Ex. 23:4; Lk. 6:27-36). But why should we love our enemies?  Answer: because God loves His enemies (v.45).  And when God's children love their enemies, they bear their heavenly Father's resemblance, they reflect His character, which is the purpose of our existence (Gen. 1:26-28; Isa. 43:7) and the very thing that makes us distinct in the world (Matt. 5:13-16, 45-48; Eph. 5:1; Phil. 2:15).

Discussion Questions:
  • What was the Pharisees' take on how enemies should be treated (v. 43)?
  • What was Jesus' take on how enemies should be treated? (v.44; cf. Lev. 19:18; Ex. 23:4)?
  • Define these key terms: "enemy" and "love" (cf. Luke 6:27-30).
  • Why should we love our enemies (v.45)?
  • How does our heavenly Father love His enemies? Hint: think common grace and gospel grace?
  • How do vv.46-47 relate to v.45? 
  • In vv.46-47, what are the implied answers to Jesus' questions? Explain.
  • Reflect on and discuss this quote by Alfred Plummer: "To return evil for good is devilish; to return good for good is human; to return good for evil is divine."
Application Questions:
  • How do I typically respond to people who mistreat me? How should God's common grace and gospel grace shown toward me shape the way I show love toward my enemies?
  • In terms of loving my enemies, what more am I doing than others? What makes my love distinct form the unbelievers around me?
  • How important is it to me that I reflect my heavenly Father's character?
Prayer Points:
  • Confess any way you have failed love your enemies and reflect your Father's character.
  • Praise God for both the common grace and gospel grace He has shown you in your life.
  • Ask God to help you shine by reflecting His character, especially in your love toward enemies.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Jesus' Teaching on Retaliation (Matt. 5:38-42)

Outline: Matthew 5:38-42
  1. Pharisee’s Interpretation
  2. Jesus’ Interpretation
  3. Jesus’ Illustrations
Summary: Jesus’ fulfillment of the OT should cause us to excel in our obedience to the OT in such a way that exceeds the surface “obedience” of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 5:20). Jesus addresses the issue of retaliation in his fifth example of the type of heart-obedience God desires. The Pharisees missed the heart of God in their interpretation of the law, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” The Pharisee’s interpreted this law to justify their personal vengeance, something this law was never meant to do (Lev. 19:18). This law meant that when someone committed an offense, the courts and the judges had the authority to administer fair and equal punishment to the offending party. Jesus, however, brings us back to the heart of God’s law, which is love. Jesus cares about our reaction when an offense is done against us. He is calling us to respond in love by laying down our rights and dying to self. He then gives us four illustrations of rights that we have and how we should respond when others are infringing upon them.

Discussion Questions:
  • How did the Pharisees understand the retaliation laws of the OT (Ex. 21:24; Lev. 24:20; Deut. 19:21)?
  • What does Jesus teach about retaliation (v.39a)?
  • What were the rights Jesus used to illustrate his teaching with (v.39-42)?
  • What response is Jesus looking for when these rights are being infringed upon?
  • How has Jesus been our perfect example when it comes to responding well to mistreatment? (1 Peter 2:23; Isa. 50:6; Phil 2:5-8)?
  • How would you describe the heart of Jesus’ teaching with a simple phrase?
  • How would you counsel someone who is tempted to retaliate?
Application Questions
  • How do you typically respond when someone infringes on your rights or offends you?
  • Of the four rights Jesus illustrates for us (dignity, possessions, time, money), which do you find to be the most challenging to lay down?
  • Within your current relationships are there any rights that are being disrespected? How is Jesus calling you to respond?
Prayer Points
  • Confess any sinful responses that you have had in times of offense.
  • Praise God that He does not respond with retaliation when we sin.
  • Praise God that He has sent His Holy Spirit to help us obey well in times of mistreatment. 
  • Ask God to make you someone who lives out the gospel in the way you react to offense.
Written by Caleb Janson, Pastoral Apprentice

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Jesus' Teaching on Oaths (Matt. 5:33-37)

Outline: Matthew 5:33-37
  1. The Pharisees' take on oaths (v.33)
  2. Jesus' take on oaths (vv.34-37)
  3. Q & A 
Summary: Jesus' fulfillment of the OT should cause us to excel in our obedience to the OT in such a way that exceeds the surface "obedience" of the scribes and pharisees (5:20). The topic of oaths is here taken up by Jesus as his fourth example of the type of heart-obedience God desires.  The pharisees missed God's heart behind the laws concerning oaths. Instead of focusing on the importance of keeping one's word, they fixated on the oath formulas and looked for ways to avoid the heart of the law (Matt. 23:16-22).  Jesus, however, taught that oaths were unnecessary for those whose speech is consistently truthful and honest, straightforward and clear.  When our intentions are consistently followed up with actions, people will find our words to be reliable.

Discussion Questions:
  • What was the Pharisees' take on oaths (v. 33; 23:16-22; cf. Lev. 19:12; Num. 30:2; Deut. 23:21)?
  • What aspect of the law on oaths did the religious leaders emphasize and how did they apply it? (cf. Matt. 23.16-22)
  • What was Jesus' take on oaths? (v.34-37)
  • Why would people swear by heaven, earth, Jerusalem, etc?
  • What is Jesus commending instead of oaths in v.37?
  • What would it look like to honor v.37 in your parenting, marriage, workplace, etc?
Application Questions:
  • How dependable is my word? 
  • In what ways do I still lack clear speech and consistent follow through? 
  • Are there any unkept promises that I need to follow through on and/or apologize for?
Prayer Points:
  • Confess any way you have failed to keep your word.
  • Praise God for His faithfulness, for always keeping His word.
  • Ask God to help you be clear and straightforward in your speech.
  • Ask God to help you be a man/woman of your word so that others can bank on your words.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Jesus' Teaching on Divorce (Matt. 5:31-32)

Outline: Matthew 5:31-32
  1. The Pharisees' take on divorce (v.31)
  2. Jesus' take on divorce (v.32)
  3. The heart of the law (19:3-9)
  4. Q & A 
Summary: Jesus' fulfillment of the OT should cause us to excel in our obedience to the OT in such a way that exceeds the surface "obedience" of the scribes and pharisees (5:20). Jesus gives a third example of the type of heart-obedience he desires by explaining and applying the law "Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce" (cf. Deut. 24:1-4). The scribes and pharisees taught people that divorce was legitimate on a variety of grounds, but Jesus brings us back to the heart of this law, teaching us that a divorce is legitimate only on the exceedingly narrow ground sexual immorality. We should not hunt for grounds for divorce (as the pharisees did); rather, we should seek to understand and honor God's original design for marriage (Matt. 19:3-9).

Discussion Questions:
  • What was the Pharisees' take on divorce? (v.31; cf. Deut. 24:1-4)
  • What was Jesus' take on divorce? (v.32)
  • How does divorcing one's spouse on unbiblical grounds create a chain reaction of sin? 
  • Would there be any ground for divorce if 5:27-30 was taken to heart and obeyed? Explain.
  • What does the exchange between the Pharisees and Jesus in 19:3-9 teach us about God's heart on the issue of divorce? 
  • How should Jesus' teaching shape the way we think about marriage and divorce?
  • Exercise: think of difficult marriage situations and consider what loving counsel you might give to them in light of their situation and God's heart for marriage.  
Application Questions:
  • How clear is my understanding of marriage and divorce from a biblical standpoint?
  • What shapes my view of divorce most: my life experience, my culture, or my Lord? Explain.
  • How am I honoring God's original design for marriage in my thinking and my living?
Prayer Points:
  • Confess any way you have failed to honor God's original design for marriage.
  • Praise Jesus that he will never divorce us and that he is faithful when we are faithless. 
  • Praise God for his good, wise and loving design for marriage.
  • Ask God to help you honor his original design for marriage in your thinking and living.
  • Ask God to help you give wise and loving counsel that might help strengthen marriages.