Monthly Archives: February 2015

Before He Created Me

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. [Matthew 5:23-24 ESV]

When was the last time you considered the price of your redemption from sin?

Jesus, God in the flesh,

did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. [Philippians 2:6-8 ESV]

He decided to do this before He created the universe, before He combined dust particles to make Earth, before He separated the waters and set the lights in the heavens. Before He molded and made the plants and animals of Earth. Before He created man in His image and set him in a garden to rule over the Earth and subdue it. Before He commanded man to marry and have children and fill the earth with those who bore His image. He decided to create man, with whom He wanted an intimate relationship, knowing man would sin and rebel, corrupting everything he touched, rejecting God and be separated from Him. He decided from before creation to take upon Himself the sentence and penalty for the sins of all.

Yet, not all are redeemed. It only takes one sin to separate the one God loves from God’s love. Adam’s sin, inherited as the sin for all people, was the one sin of disobedience. Now, having taken upon Himself the sin of all and making Himself a sacrifice, after paying the redemption price for all, it still takes only one sin to separate a person from God.

God commands each person come to Him, accept the gift on the altar, the gift of grace, and have an intimate relationship with the One who created them in His image, redeemed them from sin, and recreated them in the likeness of His Son. It still takes only one act of rebellion, one sin, to separate a person from God. That act of rebellion is to disobey the command to come to Him. Obedience carries no merit but brings life and peace with God. Disobedience carries the dire, justified consequences of eternal death, which is separation from Him who gives life.

One sin, Adam’s, brought death to all. One sacrifice, an act of obedient devotion by Christ, brings life to all. One sin, committed by all who flout Christ’s sacrifice, brings death to those who disobey.

Before the creation of anything, Christ loved me.  Knowing about my rebellion and all of my sin before I was, He decided, because of His love, to take upon Himself my sin. This decision brought upon Him indescribable suffering and anguish and cost Him His physical life. Wanting to have an intimate relationship with me, the one He loves, He was willing to take upon Himself, not just my sin, but the truth I would continue to rebel and disobey, reject and ignore Him whom I was created to love. God knew that to love me is to allow me to continue to hurt Him. Yet, still He loves me.

A sacrifice of love, the only true gift worth giving, means suffering and anguish for both the One who loves and the one being loved.

What does God ask in return? Nothing.

God never asks. He commands obedience, a demonstration of love. “If you love me you will keep my commands” [John 14:15 ESV]. This demonstration of love brings incomprehensible suffering, anguish and mourning to those who bring themselves as a gift to God’s altar. He knew my redemption would bring a suffering which would strike at the core of myself, destroy the sinful foundation upon which my life was previously built, empty and crumble my heart of its worldly passions and desires and bring a defeat, a helplessness and hopelessness to my existence. Here is what happens when I see exactly what sin is, what it has done and the consequences of its presence in my life. What is left for me to offer? There is nothing I have, nothing I can give, nothing I can do.

He set aside everything and gave His life. I have nothing to give, only the dry dust of what is left of myself, easily blown away by the casual breath of God. He does not blow away but blows upon and those dry bones come together again, flesh and blood are recreated and life, true life, eternal life is breathed into the nostrils of one recently dead. (See Ezekiel 37.)

After His suffering, a suffering demanded by love known through eternity, is the gift from Him of eternal joy for Him. He created all for an intimate and eternal relationship with Him. He does this by using suffering to make those who are His whole and then completes them with Himself.

He promises eternity free from sin and suffering for those with Him.

Worship of the Heart

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. [Matthew 5:23-24 ESV]

Jesus continues illustrating the characteristics of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven by stressing the thinking of the heart in right relationship with God. If we are right with God then we are right with those around us. They may not be right with God or us. Jesus tells us to focus on the thinking of our hearts and not theirs. If someone has something against us it is because of something we have done to offend them, not because our position before God in Christ as righteous offends them.

Do not read these verses thinking Jesus is speaking only about a touchable sacrifice on a solid altar. When Abel and Cain offered their sacrifices is was not the physical sacrifice God cared about but the thinking of their hearts. We know Cain was “angry” and his face was downcast or fallen. We know God did not accept his sacrifice. Sin had bent him toward anger and wanted to control his whole being. We know God warned him to not allow sin control. Death and separation followed Cain’s refusal to heed God’s warning and discipline. Cain’s thinking held murderous intent and contempt for both God and those created in the image of God.

Pride and covetousness stops any capacity to worship. If pride and covetousness does not immediately kill worship then it strangles it. Even a little pride, a little covetousness, completely robs love from any act declared worship.

We are given His Spirit so we might worship Him in spirit and truth. “God is sprit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” [John 4:24 ESV]. When we give to God our gift is an act of love because we give that which is most valuable to us just as He gave what was most valuable to Him to redeem us. Our gift must be nothing less than our selves. Our giving must be done with the thinking of our hearts devoted to the One who has redeemed us. We love our God “with heart and with all your soul and with all your might” [Deuteronomy 6:5 ESV].  We show our love for Him not only through sacrifice but through obedience which is sacrifice.

Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. [1 Samuel 15:22-23 ESV]

Our gifts or sacrifices are not prescribed by law but by the indwelling Spirit. Our altar is not made of stone but of living flesh. Our gift has eternal value and encompasses the whole self. Our attitude, the thinking of our hearts, our whole person, must show love for God for the gift of ourselves to be acceptable. Our worship is a spiritual gift. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” [Romans 12:1 ESV].

Knowing this further helps understand what Jesus is proclaiming in Matthew 5:22-23. His illustration pierces to the center of the thinking of my heart. I am undone.  According to Paul and my own experience my body is a slave to sin while my spirit is a slave to righteousness. If my gift to Him is pure and acceptable it is only because I have been enabled to give, to offer worship in spirit and truth, by the One receiving the gift.

I still sin. And I must continue baring responsibility for the immediate, temporal consequences of my sin. Though my relationship with God can never be severed it can be momentarily compromised. In addition, my sin frustrates and obstructs my relationship with my “brother.”

Though the eternal consequences of my sin the sentence of death and eternal separation from God has been lifted and placed on Christ, I still have a body of sin and I will still physically die. I still suffer the immediate and temporal consequences of my sin and the sin of the world. My sin affects the Body of Christ, the Church, and those around me.

Never does God say He will not accept my gift or sacrifice. However, He demands obedience. We love Him by obeying Him. We love Him by loving those created by Him.  When I sin my brother is affected and my person is compromised and my gift or sacrifice is not given in love.

God will not leave such sin unknown.

Judgment

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother (some manuscripts insert “without cause”) 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 5:22 ESV]

I know no one who is not quick to judge. Even the quiet non-judgmental types make spur of the moment judgments. All judge the actions of others assuming they understand their intent and motives. Often we judge another’s intellectual ability based upon our judgment of the motives behind their actions. All of these judgments are measured against our personal standards and expectations.

That’s a judgmental statement.

We learned the standards we use from those who raised us and who influenced our thinking. They are still our own standards. Because of the absolute corruption of sin our judgments are bent toward evil though we say they are good. No one judges according to God’s eternal standard without His direct intervention. We cannot. Our quickness to judge will itself be judged by the Judge. Our actions and intents, our motivations and judgments will be exposed by Him.

Read Paul’s assessment of both those declared righteous by God and those who are self-righteous.

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man – you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself – that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. [Romans 2:1-11 ESV]

Jesus has told us unrighteous anger brings judgment equating it to murder. Unjustly taking another’s life is an offense against God who created that person in His image. He created both the murdered and the murderer in His image and as Creator has the eternal right to judge according to the standards found within Himself. We usurp His authority when we judge another using our own standards and not His. Jesus condemns denigrating comments and thoughts which are not true that we hold against another, which place us over them and which make us the ultimate judge and not God.

We do not have the right to insult anyone. An insult is defined as “the act of leaping upon” in order to abuse, to treat another with contempt in order to triumph over them. It connotes raising oneself up, over or above, by lower another. Jesus uses the word raca, which means “empty one” and “worthless.” It is a word borrowed from the Chaldean, maybe left over from the exile and may have been considered a curse. Raca carries the idea the person has no value intellectually and thus no ability to add to society. In fact, the person insulted is considered a drain, taking away from society as a whole.

Jesus’ remarks not only encompass unjustified judgment of a person’s intellectual abilities and value to society but their moral character. When anyone judges the moral character of a person based upon sinful, arbitrary standards, they are pronouncing sentence without having the authority to execute sentence. They have tried to wrench away from God something which is only His prerogative. Declaring someone a “fool” is a moral judgment based upon the evidence of their lives as measured by the arbitrary standards of the individual. Worse is listening and believing the judgments pronounced by another without having actually witnessed the evidence of the life judged. Such a far reaching pronouncement of a sentence endangers the eternal place of the person judging before the God, the Judge. “Whoever says, ‘You fool’’ will be liable to the hell of fire” [Matthew 5:22 ESV].

Does any of this mean we are to not judge? We are given the Holy Spirit who “will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” [John 16:13 ESV]. We are commanded to focus our attention on Christ and the promptings of the Holy Spirit every moment of our lives. We need constant awareness of what we are thinking, how we are feeling, the words we speak and our actions, allowing God to continue to change us into the likeness of His Son, as He prepares us for eternity. We are still His witnesses before this world.

Motivation and Intent

Our thoughts, words and actions germinate and grow in the soil of our motivations watered and fed by intent. By intent I mean that which drives a person toward an object of desire or perceived need. Intent is the active agent between our motivations and what actually happens, what we actually do. Intent and motivation are so closely related one may easily be lost in the other. Motive is deeper, abiding, while intent can change direction dependent upon circumstances, maybe the appearance of something more desirable. Intent is fickle. Motive is revealing.

Discover that which motivates you and you will discover identity. Focus upon intent, the evidence of what you do, and you will show others who you are. Jesus hits hard the intent of the thinking of the heart. “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” [Matthew 5:22 ESV]. Here, anger means to provoke to rage or to become exasperated with the object of your wrath. It is unjustified anger toward someone who is not meeting your personal expectations in a timely manner. Your expectations are your standards arbitrarily placed upon another. No one will ever completely meet your expectations no matter how long or short a time you give them.

Jesus does not exclude all anger. God gave us the emotion of anger as part of His image. He knows anger. His anger is justifiable. Unless we conform to the likeness of His Son our anger is unreasonable, an excuse to gain control over what He has created and owns.

We do not determine our own motivation. We discover the motivations God has given to each unique person. He created us individually to serve him. His image in us powers our motivation to love and serve Him by loving and serving those around us, with whom we come in contact. Sin did not destroy the image of God in us but corrupted it, bending us and our motivations away from God. As we honestly see ourselves before Him and discover the corruption of our deepest self we come to recognize our motivations are opposite His, bent away from Him. That which motivates us is rebellion against Him.

We cannot determine our innate motivation. We can and do determine the intent of the thinking of our hearts.  How we put action to our motivations, what we focus on and strive for, is something we do control. Our words and actions reveal the intent of the thinking of our hearts to God and others.

But God changes those who belong to Him, recreates them and gives them a new heart with new motivations. Anything we focus upon, which does not come from our new, recreated, eternal relationship with Him springs from, not God, but the sin which still seeks to own us. Relinquishing control of our self to the sinless God changes everything. Theoretically, we cease to foist our expectations upon others because we no longer have personal expectations. We have only God’s eternal standards against which we measure ourselves and others. When our anger arises it is because God’s standard and law has been violated not because our expectations have not been met. Our anger is a flag which tells us either we are doing something wrong, rebelling against Him, or someone around us is rebelling against Him. Those who are His are motivated to by truth, justice and righteousness, goodness and holiness, the intent of their hearts striving to know God both intellectually and intimately.

What self-righteous audacity we have when we are angry with others and with God based upon our own unrighteous and therefore unreasonable expectations. His statement in Matthew 5:22 is not hyperbole. Our unjustified anger brings His judgment. No one has the right to judge any action or word against any other standard than God’s. Such an action wrestles control away from Him. How can anyone who says they belong to Him then turn and impose their personal standard upon Him and those He has created.

Those who are His do have the responsibility, even the deep motivation, to expose sin. Our place in this world, why God has left us here, is  a witness for Him and against the world. Our presence exposes sin and shines truth, justice and righteousness, goodness and holiness, the character of God to a godless world.

But that is not the way you learned Christ! – assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. [Ephesians 4:20-27 ESV]