Living, Giving, and Praying For God: Matthew 6:1-13

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Continuing our journey in Matthew’s gospel brings us to another point in Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount. In this section of Jesus’ message, we discover how God values our private relationship with Him over a public relationship. It may be for this reason that Jesus challenged the religious leaders so strongly. It is likely that many of them did not have a personal relationship with God in private, and that they only acted like they had a relationship with God when in public.

In the portion of Jesus’ sermon that we are focusing in on, Jesus draws our attention onto two specific areas where He likes to see His people be more private than public.

Let’s read this section of Jesus’ sermon, which is found in Matthew chapter 6. Using the God’s Word translation and starting in verse 1, Jesus continued preaching saying:

“Be careful not to do your good works in public in order to attract attention. If you do, your Father in heaven will not reward you. So when you give to the poor, don’t announce it with trumpet fanfare. This is what hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets in order to be praised by people. I can guarantee this truth: That will be their only reward. When you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your contributions privately. Your Father sees what you do in private. He will reward you.

“When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They like to stand in synagogues and on street corners to pray so that everyone can see them. I can guarantee this truth: That will be their only reward. When you pray, go to your room and close the door. Pray privately to your Father who is with you. Your Father sees what you do in private. He will reward you.

“When you pray, don’t ramble like heathens who think they’ll be heard if they talk a lot. Don’t be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This is how you should pray:

Our Father in heaven,
    let your name be kept holy.
10     Let your kingdom come.
    Let your will be done on earth
        as it is done in heaven.
11     Give us our daily bread today.
12     Forgive us as we forgive others.
13     Don’t allow us to be tempted.
    Instead, rescue us from the evil one.

This is where we will stop reading. It is interesting that some of the oldest manuscripts stop Jesus’ prayer here, while some of the later manuscripts add the familiar closing, which goes something like “for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Whether you believe Jesus ended His model prayer with a nice closing statement, or whether He left the prayer open ended to let us have the freedom to conclude the prayer in whatever way we would like, we shouldn’t miss the bigger picture of what Jesus is trying to teach us in this part of His sermon.

In this portion of Jesus’ message, He amplifies the importance of having a private relationship with God, specifically a private relationship when we give of our time and energy, and a private relationship when we pray. While both of these activities can be done publicly, and in the case of prayer, sometimes should be done publicly in certain cases, the goal of our giving, helping, and prayer must be giving glory to God. If we do anything looking for glory or praise from others for ourselves, then while we may be doing something good, we have the wrong motives, which actually undermines our relationship with God and with others.

When we do things for praise and glory from others, we subtly set ourselves up for disappointment. This is because once we have done something praiseworthy, the next time we do this it becomes less praiseworthy, and after a few times, what we once were praised for is now an expectation that we have created for ourselves. This leaves us searching and moving from one praiseworthy thing to another and trying to outdo our past selves and others expectations. Looking for praise from others is setting ourselves up for disappointment because we will not always be able to receive praise from others.

Also, looking for praise from someone else affects how we live our lives. When we are looking for praise from someone else, when no one else is around, then we are let off the hook for pleasing others and we believe we can do whatever we want. This leads to hypocrisy, which is when our talk doesn’t match our actions, and our private lives don’t match our public lives. The opposite of hypocrisy is integrity, and integrity is when everything in our public and private lives match, and when our words and our actions are in alignment. Living our lives looking for praise from others leads to hypocrisy, because we elevate others ahead of ourselves, and subtly ahead of God as well.

In contrast, when we intentionally give, help, and pray privately, the only one who knows is God, and He is willing to step in and help when we are genuinely seeking to please Him. While some might believe that it is possible to have an empty, private relationship with God, part of me wonders if the more time we spend with God privately, even if it feels like we are only going through the motions, if God is still able to use this time to actually draw us to Him.

While it’s obvious that the ideal for our private relationship with God is genuine, heartfelt, time with God that is not rushed in any way, I don’t know of anyone who decided to grow their relationship with God from nothing and have it turn into this extra close relationship and connection in less than 24 hours.

Instead, like friendships and relationships in our lives with others, a relationship with God takes time, and the time we spend with God, even if it feels weird, hollow, or empty at the beginning will grow into more when we resolve to stick with God.

Our passage challenges us to avoid doing things for praise and recognition from others, because that will be our only reward. Instead, Jesus challenges us to give, help, and pray in a way that when we are rewarded, the only possible Source of our reward is God because He is the only one who knows what you gave, how you helped, and what you specifically prayed for!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first and focus on pleasing Him in ways where only He knows what you have given, how you have helped, and what you have prayed for. Focus on growing your personal relationship with God and choose to live your life in a way that pleases God and that doesn’t chase after praise from others.

Also, as you grow your personal relationship with God, be sure to continue spending time with Him and to privately and prayerfully study the Bible with Him and with His Holy Spirit. While public Bible study is good, and while other people have good ideas to share, always take what others teach and test it against what you know and read in the Bible for yourself. God has revealed truth to us in the Bible, and He has kept the Bible safe for thousands of years.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or be distracted away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Matthew – Episode 9: In the next portion of Matthew that we are focusing in on, discover what Jesus teaches us about the importance of living for God, and focusing on our personal, private connection with God over our public connection.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Flashback Episode — God vs. Paying Taxes: Luke 20:20-26

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One thing we discover about the early portion of the week Jesus was crucified is that similar to much of the earlier part of Jesus’ ministry, we see religious leaders trying to trick and trap Him with what He said and did. However, it appears as though during the week leading up to the cross, the religious leaders intensified their efforts. Perhaps this was because Jesus had chased out the commerce and the money changing that was taking place, and this felt like a direct attack on the priests and their way of doing business as a church.

In my own mind, one of the more tricky challenges these leaders came up with was a trap that related to money, and something that most everyone hated back then. Times haven’t changed much since then in regards to this particular money topic, and most people dislike, but tolerate, this particular subject.

For this episode and our passage, we are talking about taxes, and while most of us probably dislike paying taxes, there was probably a greater dislike of it when Jesus lived.

While several gospels include this event, for this episode, we will be focusing on Luke’s gospel. This event is found in the gospel of Luke, chapter 20, and we will be reading from the New Century Version. Starting in verse 20, Luke tells us that the religious leaders:

20 [So they] watched Jesus and sent some spies who acted as if they were sincere. They wanted to trap Jesus in saying something wrong so they could hand him over to the authority and power of the governor. 21 So the spies asked Jesus, “Teacher, we know that what you say and teach is true. You pay no attention to who people are, and you always teach the truth about God’s way. 22 Tell us, is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

Before continuing our passage to see how Jesus responds, it is worth pausing for a moment to analyze this trap. The trap these leaders bring to Jesus is brilliant, because on the surface, there is no easy way for Jesus to win.

If Jesus had sided with the people and with the popular opinion that resented paying taxes, He would have gained popularity among the people, while also putting a target on His head from the government. The trap in this case wasn’t that Rome would kill Jesus, but that they would imprison Him, keeping Him from facing the cross at the appointed time.

While the Roman governor could have executed Jesus on the spot to set an example regarding paying taxes, this sort of death wouldn’t have brought honor to God. God would not come out as a winner if Jesus had pressed against paying taxes as an issue.

On an equally challenging alternate answer, Jesus could have simply stated that paying taxes was the right thing to do, but then He would lose credibility with the people and with the Jews He was trying to reach. While Jesus didn’t do or say anything for the sake of growing a crowd of followers, Jesus did speak for God, and if He were to come out and say that taxes should be paid to Caesar, then it would be like Jesus was telling God’s people to pay allegiance to an empire and religion that was opposed to God.

A response supporting taxes would subtly speak against putting God first – and this challenge would taint Jesus’ influence and God’s character.

With two ways to lose and no good way to win, let’s read how Jesus responds to this trap in an unexpected and brilliant way.

Picking back up in verse 23:

23 But Jesus, knowing they were trying to trick him, said, 24 “Show me a coin. Whose image and name are on it?”

They said, “Caesar’s.”

25 Jesus said to them, “Then give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and give to God the things that are God’s.”

26 So they were not able to trap Jesus in anything he said in the presence of the people. And being amazed at his answer, they became silent.

We’ll stop reading here because Jesus’ answer is so powerful and profound that I don’t want you to miss it.

First off, Jesus knows who is trying to trick Him and the trap they are trying to use, so instead of bringing the emperor into the discussion personally, He asks them a counter question so that those challenging Jesus would bring the emperor Caesar into the discussion, instead of Him.

While the Jewish people hated the Roman Empire and all it stood for, by shifting the focus away from the Empire as a whole, Jesus sets the stage for a one-to-one comparison. Instead of comparing Rome, which appeared to stand for everything opposed to the Jewish way of life, with God, Jesus shifts the comparison to a person, Caesar, and while most Jews did not like Caesar any more than Rome, Caesar was someone who most Jews had never met – and this detail was able to work in Jesus’ advantage.

The other benefit of Jesus’ counter question is that it brought money into the discussion in a tangible way. With a coin present, Jesus was able to draw the focus onto Caesar being the owner of Rome’s currency, and this allowed for Him to answer the taxation question in a way that really didn’t answer the question.

When Jesus responds by saying to give to Caesar what belonged to him, this challenged even those who supported the taxation, because Jesus’ statement suggests returning all of Caesar’s money to him. This is like a 100% taxation, which no-one but the cruelest dictator who doesn’t understand economics would do.

The first portion of Jesus’ answer caught both those who opposed taxes and those who supported taxes off guard, but Jesus finishes by easing the minds of those who might begin to think that Jesus was placing a human ruler who claimed to be a god above God.

Jesus’ response is perfect because it takes the focus off of self and focuses it on giving. We give earthly respect and honor to the earthly governments we live in, but we give to God what He owns – and He owns our lives. We know this is true because He has loaned us breath, and when our lives are over, our breath returns to Him. Without God’s breath, we are dust blowing in the wind.

Jesus responds to this challenge by telling those present to give Caesar what was his, specifically the Roman currency present throughout the empire, and to give God what is His, which is our life, our focus, and our allegiance.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Always seek God first and place Him first in your life. Be sure to live within the structure of the world He has placed you in while staying allied and obedient to Him.

Also, as I always challenge you to do, pray and study the Bible for yourself to learn and grow your relationship with God even further. When you determine to focus on learning from God personally, you will be amazed at what He will teach you through His word.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, give up on, or chicken out of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year of the Cross – Episode 9: When challenged by the religious leaders about the validity of Roman taxation, Jesus shares a response that not only side-stepped the question, but it also challenged all those present on both sides regarding where they had placed their allegiance.

Join the discussion on the original episode's page: Click Here.

A Higher Standard: Matthew 5:21-37

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As Jesus continues His famous Sermon on the Mount that we find in Matthew’s gospel, He comes to one of the most challenging parts of His message. In our passage for this episode, Jesus elevates what we might believe the standard of the law is to be significantly higher.

In essence, Jesus takes God’s law and Moses’ law and reframes these two laws to be a much higher standard than what we might believe, and if someone believes they have fulfilled the law as written, it would be a great stretch to believe they have fulfilled the law as Jesus describes it in this passage.

Let’s read what Jesus describes, and unpack the big truth it teaches. The portion of Jesus’ sermon we will focus on is found in Matthew, chapter 5, and we will read it from the New International Version. Starting in verse 21, Jesus continued preaching, saying:

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

In this passage, Jesus takes what we might consider to be the standard of the law, and He elevates it. Where we might think of committing murder or cursing someone as being subject to being judged, Jesus tells us that being angry with someone, or calling someone a fool is actually much closer to the line of breaking the law.

Jesus challenges us that we should be right with others first before we will be right with God. He challenges us in this way when He tells those present to leave their gift at the altar and go reconcile a relationship before offering our gifts to God. In this way, our relationships with one another become a reflection of our relationship with God.

We are also challenged to get along with others and to live uprightly. If we have a disagreement with someone, we should work to make things right, and we should do this before the issue becomes an issue in the court system. When a matter comes before a court, we give up control to a third party, and this third party might find us guilty when we believe we are innocent.

Jesus tells us that the standard for adultery isn’t the act of adultery, but the thoughts and the lust that precedes the action. Jesus doesn’t minimize the sin in the act of adultery; He challenges us with the truth that lustful thoughts are equally bad.

In one of the more challenging parts of Jesus’ message, He challenges us with the idea that it is better to physically cut a part of our body away than to let that part of our body sin and cost us our salvation. While some people don’t think Jesus meant what He says here, I wonder if we truly took this teaching to heart whether we would be so lenient towards sin. Jesus challenges us to purge sin from our lives, because sin in our lives has the power to cause us to lose our salvation!

Also in this passage, Jesus elevates the status of marriage to being a life-long, through-thick-and-thin commitment. Jesus describes in this message that adultery is the only spiritually valid reason for divorce. While I don’t know if Jesus would exclude other abuses for being valid reasons for divorce, I know at least in my own mind, I would consider any form of abuse as grounds for divorce. I also know and recommend that avoiding marriage is better if there is any doubt about a potential spouse in a person’s mind. Another place in the gospels describes Jesus telling His followers that it is better that they don’t marry if they cannot accept Jesus’ teaching on marriage.

The last challenge in this portion of Jesus’ sermon elevates the significance of our word vs. making oaths. In an interesting comparison, Jesus challenges us to keep our word, regardless of how it was said. When we live to the standard we speak, then there is no reason to swear oaths, or to make vows. We should live to the standard of our words and our agreements, and not distinguish between promises that can be broken vs. promises that must be kept.

This entire section of teaching is very challenging because it elevates the law to a much higher standard than simply the letter of the law, and this makes God’s law virtually impossible to keep 100%. However, if you remember in our last episode, where we focused on a statement Jesus makes right before this, you’ll remember that Jesus tells those present that He came to fulfill the law. We break the law Jesus describes in this passage, but He came so that we can have salvation when we turn away from our sin.

Breaking the law condemns us to death, and Jesus offers to take the death we deserve and give us the life He deserved. We shouldn’t continue to sin, but we should resolve to turn away from our sins as a way to say Thank You to Jesus for the gift He purchased for us on the cross!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first and place Him first in your life. Accept Jesus and the gift He offers to us and resolve to thank Jesus for His gift by turning away from sin.

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself. While pastors, speakers, authors, or even podcasters can give you things to think about, take what you learn and filter it through what God teaches you through His Word. God is interested in a personal relationship with you and personal prayer and study is how to grow a personal relationship with God.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or abandon where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Matthew – Episode 8: Part way through the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus elevates the standard of the law to be much broader than what we might realize, but this is only after He has offered us a solution to this impossible dilemma.

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Flashback Episode — Accepting Two Free Gifts: Matthew 22:1-14

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During the week that leads up to the cross, the gospel of Matthew shares a powerful, challenging parable that is just as applicable for our lives today as it was for those living in the first century. In this parable, we discover two key details that are worth paying attention to, and both these details are necessary for our salvation. While modern Christian culture focuses a lot of attention on one of these details, we find out that only having one detail in place may actually be worse than having neither detail.

Let’s read this parable and unpack some big themes we can learn from it. Our passage is found in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 22, and we will be reading from the New International Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 1, Matthew tells us that:

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

It is at this point in the parable where Jesus could have stopped. When thinking about salvation, the great news for each of us is that all we need to do is accept God’s invitation and we are all set. When those who the king originally invited rejected his invitation, the way opened for anyone and everyone, regardless of their past, to be invited. Jesus describes the wedding hall being filled with both good and bad people.

But Jesus didn’t stop the parable here. After the wedding hall was filled with guests, Matthew continues Jesus’ parable in verse 11:

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

What begins as an amazing parable about inclusiveness and being invited ends with someone being thrown out. Jesus’ concluding words are also challenging to think about: “Many are invited, but few are chosen.

All too often, we’d rather focus entirely on the first portion of the parable: the portion focused on inviting the many, and we don’t like thinking about the disturbing way Jesus ended this message.

However, let’s look at the details of this scene, with what is said and what is not said to discover something amazing about God, who is represented in this parable as the king.

Early on in the parable, when those who were originally invited reject their invitation, the king has a problem. The king has a feast ready, and no guests to eat and celebrate with him. They had already killed and prepared the food and if too much time passes, the food will spoil and the banquet feast would be a failure.

Since everything is ready, those the servants find in the streets and alleys don’t have time to go home and change to get ready for a banquet. If they did, they risk missing out because the food would have spoiled, or there would be no food left, or there wouldn’t be any space left. The invitation the servants share is one focused on simply coming because you have been invited.

However, this sounds great on the surface, but after inviting everyone they could find and when the wedding hall is full, the king arrives and throws someone out who wasn’t wearing wedding clothes. This sounds like a double-standard – except when we look at the unwritten implication that the wedding hall was full of people wearing wedding clothes.

Those who accepted the invitation didn’t have time to get changed into wedding clothes, and since the invitation was given to people of every background, some of those who were invited likely didn’t even own wedding clothes because they were too poor.

The only way this parable makes sense is if between the first and second portions, we conclude that when these last minute guests arrive, they are offered wedding clothes to change into. If everyone was offered wedding clothing in addition to the invitation, then the king has every right to challenge someone who is present but who isn’t wearing the second gift that was freely offered.

The person not wearing wedding clothes, because they chose to reject the king’s second gift, is thrown out of the banquet. This means that two things are important when we focus on what is needed for salvation.

The first is simple: We must accept the invitation that God freely offers to us. This invitation is made possible because Jesus died on the cross for sinful humanity, and because those who were first invited rejected their invitation. Accepting the invitation is as simple as praying a prayer to ask Jesus into your heart.

The second is a little more difficult: We must accept the gift of wedding clothes that God has offered to us. Clothing in this context symbolizes our character and our actions. We must be willing to remove our sinful character, habits, and lifestyle, and replace it with God’s perfect character, habits, and lifestyle. This sounds impossible to do, but it’s only impossible when we forget one tiny detail: God is the one giving this free gift.

Perfecting our lives on our own is impossible, but letting God change our lives and being willing to let Him change us makes the impossible become possible. Accepting God’s gift of clothing means that we choose to focus daily on growing closer to God and that we focus on becoming more like Him. When we focus on God and on Jesus, the Holy Spirit will begin changing our lives and our priorities, and we will be transformed by God into who He wants us to be. When the Holy Spirit transforms us, we will be fully clothed in wedding garments fit for the king’s wedding!

The only people who lose in this parable are those who reject God’s invitation, and those who reject the gift of wedding clothes that the king offered. The challenge for each of us is to accept these gifts in preparation for the wedding feast when Jesus returns to bring His people home.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Always intentionally seek God first and be willing to accept His invitation and His gifts. God wants His people to be clothed in His character and to model His love to the world around us. God’s love was demonstrated best through Jesus, who pushed back at those who wanted to get between people and God, and who loved sinners enough to die on a cross to take their place. That is the love God modeled for us, and the love He calls us to model for others.

Also, be sure to always pray and study the Bible for yourself, in order to grow personally closer to God. Don’t take my word at face value for anything the Bible teaches. Instead, study it out for yourself because when you study the Bible for yourself, you will grow personally closer to God – and you will have the Holy Spirit as your teacher. The Holy Spirit is a way better teacher than me.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, or chicken out of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year of the Cross – Episode 8: When Jesus told a parable about a king inviting guests to a wedding feast, we discover that not only must those the king invited accept the invitation and come, they must also accept another gift that is hidden within the finer details of this parable. Otherwise, those who accepted the invitation risk being thrown out into the darkness.

Join the discussion on the original episode's page: Click Here.