Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:13-16

Matthew 5:13-16

You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its flavor, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled on by people. 14 You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.
(NET Bible)

Vibrant lives convey a powerful message!

If you watch any television, you receive steady bombardment from advertising claims. Our special plan will let you lose 40 pounds in 40 days! Our technical training will put you in a high-paying job for life! Buy our car and circulate among the elite! We have a constant challenge in trying to separate what has eternal value from what does not.

Jesus wants his disciples to demonstrate authentic kingdom values to a watching world. Do you have the right stuff?

Our Bible text for today has been the subject of great analysis, some of it needlessly subtle. R.T. France seems to have the right idea when he says, It is important that disciples should both be different and be seen to be different.[1] Keener adds that Jesus has just explained the appropriate lifestyle for his disciples and now says that any alleged disciple who does not live the kingdom lifestyle is worth about as much as tasteless salt or invisible light.[2]

Putting matters positively, Jesus uses a metaphor when he flatly states, You are the salt of the earth (5:13a). It is quite clear that salt was critical to the function of the ancient world, largely as a food preservative and for flavoring food. A world without adequate salt would have been much more primitive.

Jesus next describes a hypothetical situation in which salt loses its distinctive qualities or flavor. Then he asks a question: By what will it be re-salted?[3] (5:13b). Jesus answers his own rhetorical question by saying such material is good for nothing! The implication is that a disciple who is not living for the kingdom will similarly be cast aside. By whom? This is again a divine passive; such a disciple will be cast away by God.

Before we go on, you must know that we are not speaking here about loss of salvation. Instead, we must recall that huge crowds are following Jesus, and even among his disciples are those of varying commitment. Always remember the presence of Judas, and you will realize that it is easy to make false assumptions about Jesus disciples. Jesus never made that mistake! Judas later sold his master for 30 silver coins (Matt. 26:15), but that did not buy him any new friends (Matt. 27:4).

The second metaphor Jesus uses is much easier; he calls his own the light of the world (5:14). Jesus stresses visibility in two further images: a city set on a hilltop (5:14) and a lamp placed on a lampstand in a home (5:15). These metaphors are about the effect which the life of Jesus disciples will have on those around them. R.T. France says, The job description of a disciple is not fulfilled by private personal holiness, but includes the witness of public exposure.[4]

Of what does this light consist? Matthew 5:16 makes it clear that good deeds seen by others are the essence of what Jesus expects from his disciples. It is interesting that Jesus credits unbelieving people with the insight to honor God for the good deeds performed by the disciples.

Do you have the right stuff?

Sometimes we Protestants lean so hard on grace that Christians begin to think that the phrase good works is a contradiction in terms! Turner goes so far as to say, A so-called disciple without good works is of no more value than tasteless salt or an invisible lamp.[5]

Jesus taught and worked miracles in all types of public settings. Like salt we must be distinctive. Like light we must engage the dark watching world. In doing so, we are following the example of our Lord!

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 173.

[2] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), 172.

[3] My translation, following BDAG-3, tis, what? q.v.

[4] France, Matthew, 176.

[5] David L. Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008) 156.


Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:10-12

Matthew 5:10-12

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
11 Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.
(NET Bible)

The paradox of righteousness

The more we are persecuted for our commitment to Jesus, the higher we rise in his kingdom. Contrary to the ways of this world, we fall to rise. That is paradoxical, is it not?

We have already learned that Matthew uses the word righteousness to refer to behavior that pleases God and keeps his commandments. It is perverse that righteousness provokes opposition, but we must recall that Jesus is the ultimate example of living for God and being crucified for it. Turner says of 5:10 that Jesus warns his followers that their upright behavior will fare no better.[1]

Further, R.T. France says, Already in the commendation of the merciful and the peacemakers these beatitudes have marked out the true disciple not as a hermit engaged in the solitary pursuit of holiness but as one engaged in society, and such engagement has its cost.[2] In light of this fact, it is strange that Christians have at times locked themselves away in monasteries with alleged spiritual motives. The fact that society does not share our values is no excuse for retreat!

Jesus makes the matter more personal in 5:11 when he shifts from third-person plural (they) to second-person plural (you). NT Greek has a way of speaking to each individual in a crowd, but that is not used here; instead, R.T. France tells us, It is the corporate impact of the disciple community, as an alternate society, which is here in view.[3] So Jesus makes the blessing more personal and yet stresses the corporate witness of the group. We all do this together!

Note that Jesus declares us blessed for evil things said against us falsely (5:11). We receive no blessing if the evil allegations are true. In a similar way, the evil things said about us must be on account of me [Jesus] (5:11). As a friend of mine once taught, God does not bless us for being a jerk!

Irony predominates in 5:12. When we are reviled, insulted and persecuted for righteousness and allegiance to Jesus, we are to rejoice and be glad (5:12)! But Jesus does not ask us to like persecution; instead, he calls on us to consider the great reward to come in heaven. R.T. France aptly points out that, unlike many Christians, Jesus has no hesitation about speaking of the reward God will provide to believers who maintain their witness and godly behavior.[4]

When we experience opposition and persecution in living for Christ, we are getting the same treatment given to the prophets (5:12). It is an amazing thing to think my behavior can make me have something in common with Isaiah or Jeremiah; the same applies to you. If that does not amaze you, then check your pulse. :)

A final word

Jesus said: From everyone who has been given much, much will be required, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked. (Luke 12:48b). But the leverage we get from Jesus makes the heavenly rewards very great!

But Jesus does not ask us to do these things without help. He has given us the Holy Spirit to enable us to do all he wants from us. That is a great reason to rejoice!

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] David L. Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2008) 153.

[2] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 170.

[3] France, Matthew, 171.

[4] France, Matthew, 172.


Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:4-6

Matthew 5:4-6

4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
(NET Bible)

Why meek does not mean wimpy

I first want to address something skipped in the previous post: the meaning of blessed. R.T. France discusses the difficulty of capturing this Greek word (makarios) in English by choosing happy over the alternatives blessed, congratulations to, and fortunate. After mentioning my favorite alternative, esteemed, he says, Beatitudes are descriptions, and commendations, of the good life. [1] Jesus commends such a life to his followers.

To say that those who mourn are happy (5:4) is clearly nonsense unless you understand that we are not dealing with a feeling here but rather knowledge that God will comfort them. For what do they mourn? Turner says that, rather than mourning over personal sin or misfortune, they probably mourn over persecution that arises over their allegiance to the kingdom.[2]

The idea that God esteems meekness requires explanation. First, the Greek word praus means, pertaining to not being overly impressed by a sense of ones self-importance, gentle, humble, considerate, meek.[3] Twice Jesus describes himself using this same Greek adjective, and in these instances the NET Bible translates the word as humble (Matt. 11:29) and unassuming (21:5). Further, Moses was described as the meekest man on earth (Num. 12:3). Who would ever say that either Jesus or Moses was not a great leader? Yet both were humble and unassuming. Lovers of swagger, take note!

I like the way Turner puts it: Once again Jesus goes against the grain of human culture and experience by assuming that the meek — not those well stocked with wealth, armament or status — will inherit the earth.[4] You should think long and hard about that statement!

In saying that the meek will inherit the earth (5:5), Jesus points forward to the worldwide kingdom he will rule — assisted by the humble — during the millennium, following his second coming (Rev. 20:4).

One of the best ways to understand the phrase hunger and thirst after righteousness (5:6) is to consider what Jesus said in John 4:34, My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to complete his work. But what kind of righteousness is he talking about?

Matthew must be understood on his own terms. If you import Pauls meaning for righteousness in Romans into Matthew, you will really be confused. R.T. France says that righteousness in Matthew is overwhelmingly concerned with right conduct, with living the way God requires.[5] A really good example is when Jesus allows John the Baptist to baptize him — over Johns protest (3:14) — in order to fulfill all righteousness (3:15). Jesus had nothing to repent of, but he wanted to identify with those who did. Jesus exemplified the humility mentioned in the previous verse.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 161.

[2] David L. Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2008) 150, citing Matt. 5:1012, 3848; 10:1642; 13:21; 23:34; 24:9.

[3] BDAG-3, praus, humble, meek, q.v.

[4] Turner, Matthew, 151.

[5] France, Matthew, 167.


Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:1-3

Matthew 5:1-3

When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. After he sat down his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to teach them by saying: 3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
(NET Bible)

An unexpected opening

In the concluding verse of Matthew chapter 4, we found that large crowds (4:25) from such distant places as Syria and Jerusalem accompanied Jesus. They had heard that he was preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing (4:23).

But gathering crowds and leading them was not the mission Jesus had been given. When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain (5:1). Since Galilee has no tall mountains, you should think in terms of the Texas hill country — that kind of mountain.

Whenever we read a literary work like Matthews Gospel, it is sensible to probe whether simple words may conceal unexpected yet intentional connections. That is the case with he sat down (5:1). The Greek verb is used eight times in Matthew, and in most cases it involves sitting in a position of authority or judgment.[1] That will certainly prove to be the situation on this day. Perhaps anticipating Jesus, his disciples gather around him. But, exactly what is a disciple?

When you recall that some of Jesus disciples turned away from him (John 6:66), it becomes obvious that disciple is not a synonym for believer. We will contrast discipleship under Jesus with other forms of first-century discipleship. How does discipleship to Jesus contrast with the disciples of the Jewish rabbis or to Greek masters such as Socrates?

Allegiance to a rabbi meant adhering to his view of the Torah, the instruction revealed by Moses in Genesis to Deuteronomy. Allegiance to Socrates was shown by adherence to his ideas or his philosophy. TDNT says: In contrast to both, Jesus binds exclusively to himself. The rabbi and the Greek philosopher are at one in representing a specific cause. Jesus offers himself. This obviously gives a completely different turn to the whole relation of the disciples to him.[2] Discipleship under Jesus involves personal commitment to him and the acceptance of his teachings that results in obedience.

Of course, Matt. 5:1 begins the famous Sermon on the Mount, which extends through 7:29. I agree with Turner when he says: The sermon amounts to personal ethics for the followers of Jesus. . . . The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus authoritative teaching about the way believers should live today.[3]

Today we will only put a toe in the deep waters of the Sermon by considering 5:3. Blessed are the poor in spirit illustrates that the sharply paradoxical character of most of [the Sermons] recommendations reverses the conventional values of society.[4] If we called for a show of hands from all who strive to be poor in spirit, the resulting inner tension would show how counter-cultural this is! See Ps. 37:14-17, James 2:5 and Prov. 16:18-19 for further ideas on being poor in spirit.

Turner correctly says, To be poor in spirit is to acknowledge ones total dependence on God for everything, for righteousness . . . as well as sustenance.[5]

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] References are Matt. 13:48; 19:28; 20:21, 23; 23:2; 25:31.

[2] TDNT, 4:447, mathotes, disciple, q.v.

[3] David L. Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2008) 144.

[4] R.T. France,The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 159.

[5] Turner, Matthew, 149.

Hard Sayings (John 6:60)

More than once Jesus’ disciples threw up their hands and said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (John 6.60). Have you ever said something similar when you encountered a bracing section of the Bible?

Actually, we silently protest the hard sayings of Jesus more easily than his disciples. We open our Bibles in the privacy of home, and we have complete control over what we select to read or what we choose as fit for reflection. After all, Jesus is not physically there speaking to us about the things we need most to hear.

So, when our eye falls on something tough that Jesus said, like “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:54), we start scanning for something more cheerful to brighten the day. Over time we get to know the soothing parts of the Gospels, but the hard parts are like a forbidding land our feet hesitate to enter.

Jesus knew his disciples were grumbling about what he had said and that some had even turned back. You might think Jesus would try to reassure his disciples to keep them in the fold, but you would be wrong. Instead, he challenged the Twelve by saying, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (John 6:67). No spin control. No soft words from a media consultant.

Peter responded to the challenge with frankness, “Lord, to whom shall we go. You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Peter speaks to us down the centuries. He says there is no turning away from the hard sayings of Jesus, because they are the words of eternal life. And he reminds us that to turn away from Jesus’ words means to turn away from Jesus himself.

How do we proceed? I recommend this spiritual discipline for the next month: spend time studying the Bible verses you like the least. Pray about them, and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into all the truth. You may find this to be a hard saying. So be it.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

A Model for Christian Life – Part 2 of 3

[Part 1 ended with a metaphor of a mental “map” which represents our understanding of God and the created reality in which we live.]

Distortions in Our Maps

Our individual, mental maps have distortions and omissions which make our journey more difficult. These map errors arise from several sources. For example, the family into which a child is born passes its own flawed maps on to the child who knows no other reality. Selective attention also plays a role in producing map distortions. And misinformation can prove worse than none at all!

As a result of these factors, some people become adults with a map that approximates a US topographic map while others have something like a pirate-treasure map from a grade-B movie. What can be done about getting a better map?

“What is truth?”—Pontius Pilate

The dilemma we face is one of finding a reliable standard against which we can correct our maps. To achieve some correction, we can compare our mental maps with those of others through probing discussions. Or we can consult an expert. But it would be naive to accept such input as absolutely reliable. Centuries ago the greatest minds in France advised their king that the Black Plague had been caused by a conjunction of planets. They were completely confident and totally wrong!

Human beings currently suffer from a plague — a plague of subjectivity that resists attempts at a cure. That’s exactly why it makes so much sense for God to communicate with man by means of a Bible which is inerrant in its original manuscripts. As Christians, we need an objective reality-base which can be trusted as we attempt to correct our mental maps.

Improving Our Maps

God has always had access to all available information. No wonder he has the only accurate map. But we still face the distortions that subjective humans introduce during translation and interpretation of the biblical text. So while the Bible is totally true, our personal perception of it is not.

God works from the outside and the inside to refine the map within us. The Bible and the created world both serve as external standards, while the Holy Spirit works within a Christian’s mind to prompt the admission of information. The Spirit does this in a non-forcing way to leave us responsible for what we learn and what we believe.

As the life-manager actively expresses love and seeks biblical knowledge, he or she will grow through changes in the perceptual map of reality. This search for increasing levels of truth will take the form of an uninterrupted series of approximations to actual reality. (I say “actual reality” to distinguish it from the “subjective reality” we each have.) This mental map will draw nearer to truth over time because of the Holy Spirit’s work, assisted by God’s revelation in the Bible.

In effect, the Bible serves as a travel guide, or a mission order, for the Christian’s journey. It can help tremendously, but it cannot substitute for traveling. Too many Christians conduct their spiritual journey by memorizing their travel guide instead of living out love, freedom and life-management. Nor was the Bible ever intended to be a Christian’s sole source of truth, though all other sources require additional validation.

The entire process involves a measure of struggle which continues throughout the journey. In fact, the absence of struggle over a prolonged period probably indicates that the traveler has abandoned his journey by favoring safety over progress. Inevitably, the changes we have described will result in interpersonal differences with those who do not share a similar map.

Filling in the Blank Areas

While many Christians have an accurate map of the path to salvation in Jesus Christ, a lot fewer have an understanding of what the Lord has mapped out for their growth toward Christian maturity. I intend to offer my view of that plan.

Before I start on the biblical basis for the model, one additional matter needs attention. I do not join those who see the Christian life as a grim, lifelong struggle against sin. Theologian B.B. Warfield called this “miserable-sinner Christianity.”[1] Rather, I believe that Christians are new men and new women in Christ who can please the Lord by performing their life-management using all the resources God has already provided through Christ. All of what follows is part of what such a manager must know.

The Goal of the Christian Development

As I understand the New Testament, the goal of Christian life is to grow to maturity in Christ. I arrive at that conclusion through verses such as the following:

“My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you,” (Gal. 4:19).

“until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (Eph. 4:15).

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21).

“A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children” (Eph. 5:1).

However, some believers have not advanced beyond infancy (1 Cor. 3:1–3) and others are still at a beginning level of Christian truth (Heb. 6:1–3). These are not managing their lives effectively for Christ, and they can expect little, if any, reward.

Our Identity in Christ: Life-Manager

As Christians we are those in whom Christ dwells (John 15:4–5; Col. 3:11). Alternatively, one may describe believers as those in whom the Holy Spirit lives (Rom. 8:13). Perhaps these are two ways of saying the same thing.

In addition to describing us as life-managers for Christ, the New Testament also refers to us as the “new man” and as the “people of God.” These aspects of our identity will be further developed below [in Part 3]; they are part of what we must be in Christ.

I have previously presented the role of life manager for Christ as a useful metaphor for understanding Christian life. Bible references related to this role are: Gen. 1:26–28; Matt. 25:14–28; Luke 19:12–27; Matt. 24:45–51.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Part 3 will conclude the series with more about our new identity in Christ.

[1] Benjamin B. Warfield, Perfectionism, 2 vols. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1931), 1:113-301.


Taking Sides: Joining Jesus When It’s Hard

As I was doing my new Bible reading plan this morning, I was reading about the time when Israel was camped below Mount Sinai and Moses returned from meeting God on the mountain. Consider this bracing passage in Exodus 31:19–29:

19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. 20 And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.

21 He said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?”

22 “Do not be angry, my lord,” Aaron answered. “You know how prone these people are to evil. 23 They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’ 24 So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”

25 Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. 26 So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me.” And all the Levites rallied to him.

27 Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’” 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. 29 Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the LORD today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.” [END]

Clearly, God was not playing games! As believers, we are compelled to acknowledge that life is God-given, and he can also take that life whenever he chooses. Set that issue aside and consider that this story is about taking sides. Who is on the Lord’s side? One answer, based on this story, is that those “running wild” in defiance of God were rejected by him. Another answer is that those who were willing to serve God no matter the cost were blessed.

A more personal question is this: would you have stood with the Levites on that day? Jesus challenged the following crowd in a similar way in Luke 14:25–27:

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, even their own life — such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

Jesus challenges all to take a side! Following Jesus may cost a lot. The cross that we carry is a symbol of our death, and death severs all relationships except one.

To deal with a distraction, the word translated “hate” (Luke 14:26) by NIV2011 might better be rendered “disregard” according to the standard Greek lexicon (BDAG-3).

So, the Luke 14 passage ties to Exodus 31 in regard to taking sides. But I think Exodus 31:27 may relate to another enigmatic thing Jesus told his disciples: “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36, NIV2011). Both passages feature a sword. The swords in Exodus are literal, but I think the ones in Luke 22 are metaphorical. Jesus is telling his disciples to get ready to take a stand for God; the decisive hour is upon them, and they will be forced to take a side at risk of their lives.

The idea of taking sides may also explain Matthew 10:34, where Jesus  says: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” You may have other passages to suggest as well.

When all is done, the message is clear: Stand with Jesus, no matter what!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.