Sunday, October 25, 2009

Perfect Laws for Perfect Relationships (Matthew 5:21-48)

Green Tea Frap and Good Snacks on Sunny Sunday Afternoon
Green Tea Cream Frap, Hazelnut Latte and a few Good Snacks. Taken with an iphone and messed with on Mill Color.

Starbucks has overtaken McDonalds as the new mugging (as in hogging a table and swotting, not the thing that happens in a dark lonely alley with a knife) hotspot, with a smellscape of coffee instead of french fry grease and a soundscape of easy jazz* instead of the hyperness of Rick Dee's Top 40s. At least one macbook and an iphone adorn each table.

Mugging up God's word is hard work, especially with the sort of warped feeble minds we sinful people have rattling in our skulls. But after having sweatily grasped it, our equally corrupt and flabby hearts have great difficulty living out what we know. The Pharisees and the scribes who made a living from studying Scripture got their knickers all in a twist in the end, what more us 21st century information junkies - our constant plugged-in-ness to Facebook, Twitter, RSS feeds to favourite blogs and sites while simultaneously watching cable news, sitcoms and movies and listening to podcasts, fresh hot new songs or curated playlists and playing online games, necessarily means we skim and will/can hardly linger for a hard look and anything more than a taste and sniff before being whisked off to new things by the fast-moving knowledge conveyor belt ("128,540 updates since you started reading this sentence").

Matthew 5:17-20 took a bit of working through (What was the connection between Jesus and the Old Testament? In what ways did he fulfil the Law and the Prophets?) but we got that sorted. Matthew 5:20 ("For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.") sat a bit uncomfortably but could have been explained by our partaking of Jesus' perfect obedience to the law. As could "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48).

We could just as happily, with a quick sigh of relief, dismiss the teachings on murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, retaliation and loving neighbours (Matthew 5:21-48), as mere aspirations not principles to be worked on; or perhaps think, surely God could not have meant that and domesticate what Jesus said so as to bring his teaching within range of our accomplishment.

Or if we are uncreative enough to take Jesus' words as-is, then we strive hard to pass Christ's strict examination, flagellating ourselves literally and/or metaphorically to make ourselves better Christians; or we sink under the weight of the impossibility of perfection.

While this last might lead to the poverty of spirit commended by Jesus (Matthew 5:3), the poor who are promised the kingdom of heaven (William Taylor of St. Helen's Bishopsgate gives a good exposition of this aspect of Matthew 5:17-48 here), there is nothing in the Sermon on the Mount that any of what Jesus is commanding cannot be fulfilled by his disciples. In fact, he fully expects his disciples to obey them:
"whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:19)

"Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock." (Matthew 7:24)
The Law will not pass away even in the least bit (Matthew 5:18) because we are told by the rest of Scripture that it does several things: (i) it expresses the character of God and thus his will for man's life; (ii) it demonstrates, by man's failure to keep it, the character of man and therefore his need of God's salvation; and (iii) it teaches us the character of salvation. (i) and (iii) are eternal, while (ii) will continue until everything is accomplished and all things are made new.

So Jesus fulfils the law by, inter alia, (i) filling out the height, breadth, width and depth of the Law and thus the character of God; (ii) by so doing in Matthew 5:21-48, challenges the hollowness of the self-righteousness (if any) of his audience; and (iii) teaches them how to live when they have been saved and become sons of God.

As a son of God, the Christian, that person bankrupt of spirit and mourning over sin hungering and thirsting for righteousness (Matthew 5:3-6), is a desperate drooling canine straining at his leash in the cage of his sinfulness, nose squashed against the bars, sniffing the yummy scent of righteousness in the air but unable to get at it. If someone came along and unlocked the cage and took off the leash, would he not make a frantic mad dash for the righteousness he was going crazy for? If we are so completely crazy for God and knowing him and his will for our lives, would we not, once we are given the chance, rush to, bask in the glorious beauty of his created order, gulp down his words and live according to them? The Law is the wonderful enveloping fragrance of salvation.

It is common to say that Matthew 5:21-48 reminds us to obeys the heart of the law and not just the letter. Living authentically as such would inevitably render us salty and useful, and spotlights for the glory of God (Matthew 5:13-16). But even non-Christians would tsk at a pharisaical fulfilment of merely conforming with the letter of the law, and even much maligned secular legal systems and lawyers endorse equitable principles concerning the "spirit of the law". This encompasses something more: our relationship to the Father in heaven as his sons and our need both to accept our innate character and to work at imitating him (Matthew 5:48). It is like the new husband who is told that he must show his love by remembering his wife's birthday with flowers. He dutifully sends a bouquet along to her workplace every year and, even though he has not been told to do so, brings her out for a nice dinner that night, and her colleagues commend her on her loving spouse. But if he is prone to letting doors slam in her face after he'd passed through or to ignoring her frankly tediously boring daily updates about the home and the children, the existence of the relationship and his character as husband and father would be in question. Merely value-adding to existing legislation just isn't enough; relationships with God and man and the character of God our father which is to be our character as sons of God cannot be adequately and fully legislated or defined.

We are not left alone to figure out these relationships or to build up a holy perfect character though. The blood of Jesus has been spilled for us and the Spirit has been given to us, by which and whom only we can be and are comforted and satisfied (Matthew 5:4,6), to help us follow the guide given to us in the written word.

Still, we are told to knuckle down and work at these relationships because we are continue to live in the now-but-not-yet, confused and confunded by our still-sinful beings: truth-seeking trips are derailed by the murder of fellow journeymen, flagrant abuse of even grace and truth (truth without charity being intolerant and persecuting; grace without truth being weak and untrustworthy in judgement (Joshua Swartz)) carrying on unchecked, so some are too eager to condemn without due evidence, whilst others are too eager to overlook evidence of sin and soothe confessions of obedience failure with false comfort, and still others argue bitterly over which represents a true and accurate picture/interpretation of a given situation...etc etc

Spinach and Emmental Cheese Sausages Pizza, Sunset Level 1 Buffalo Wings, Carmen Chardonnay 2006, Harry Potter
Tough enough perhaps to make one deny the truth of Christianity and the existence of God? Discussing the attractiveness of Harry Potter, we realised that the Bible and the Christian life had everything Harry Potter had and more: Good and Evil? Yes. Bildungsroman of protagonists? Somewhat. Blood, gore, death, difficulties, persecution requiring stout-heartedness, strong-headedness as regards what is good and true and loyalty at the risk of one's life? Yes in truck loads. Love? Actually and massively. Good ending? Definitely. Our problem is that we are somewhere in Book 3 and though we've been told how Book 7 ends, we don't quite believe it sometimes.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:21-25)

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said,"Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written,"I believed, and so I spoke," we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4)

A Trundle Through Sermon on the Mount
Earth Moves Under Feet, Kingdom Comes (Matthew 5-7)
This is the Sound of Inevitability (Matthew 5:1-6)
Breeding - We Hazs It (Matthew 5:7-12)
Coffee, Salt and Light, and the Essence and Use of the Christian (Matthew 5:13-16)
And the Missing Link is Jesus (Matthew 5:17-20)
Perfect Laws for Perfect Relationships (Matthew 5:21-48)
Cakes for Kierkegaard and Sermon on the Mount as Existentialist Answer Perhaps (Matthew 6:1-18)

*They've just switched to what sounds like Glenn Gould's deliberate tinkling of Bach's Goldberg Variations...followed closely by...horrors, La Paloma!

This post is brought to you by:
Burger Shack
Burger Shack Original Burger, Burger Shack
far too many instances of frustratingly cold burgers and cold fries from Burger Shack by Island Creamery
559 Bukit Timah Road
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Fat Boy's - The Burger Bar
slightly more decent burgers from Fatboy's - The Burger Bar, 187 Upper Thomson Road

once upon a milk shake
sadly overpriced milkshakes from the cute once upon a milk shake
32 Maxwell Road
#01-08 Maxwell Chambers (fka The White House)
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