Monday, March 26, 2018

Matthew 6:25-7:14 #eebc2018

The Sermon on the Mount continues. Matthew records Jesus preaching about anxiety and worry. He also speaks of judgment, hypocrisy, and seeking.

It is the connection of these three things that I would recommend you consider today. It is important that we not take the whole teaching of the Messiah and treat it like a collection of fortune cookie sayings. None of Scripture should be chopped up into one-liners. We do not do Proverbs justice when we do that, and it's even worse with the Sermon on the Mount.

So don't look at this as separate areas. Rather, see the way in which the Master connects these ideas. Each of them are valid on their own, of course, but they were not delivered stand alone.

How do they relate?

First, Jesus commands us not to worry. That's right, read it again in Matthew 6:25. It's a command. When Jesus says "Do not worry," He is not giving you sage advice. He's giving you a command to obey. He then goes on to give you some reasons and supports for obeying this command. Is God not capable of taking care of you? After all, see how God cares for everything!

Second, He moves from worry and anxiety into not judging others. How do these relate? Tear up your twenty-first century notions of "judging" as a starting place. Then, consider this: judgment here has to do with determining whether or not someone deserves what they have, be it happiness or wealth or illness or misfortune. There's a connection between making that judgment and trying to enforce the results.

It is not about deciding if a person's actions are right or wrong. Especially if you are in matters which are clear in Scripture, clear with a reasonable ethic. For example, if I abandon my child to starve to death, that's wrong. It's not wrongly "judgmental" for you to tell me it's wrong, either. If I am a serial adulterer who lies about it, that's wrong. It's not inappropriate to declare that behavior, and the heart that embraces it, as wrong. That's truth. Now, where we need to acknowledge Christian liberty is on the less-clear things: I let my children watch TV, but some do not. I have let my children read questionable books (email me for a list if you dare!) while others are much more reserved about what pages turn. (Obviously, some things are still wrong here but there are bright lines. And some things are out for being lousy literature, whatever the content.)

There was a long parenthetical there, but let's get back on track: anxiety and judgment? The connection is that anxiety frequently raises its ugly head as we judge our life against the lives of others. Why did he get a good thing that I didn't? Why did that bad thing happen there?

And then it builds, internally, as we run through those questions of judgment: what if I'm not good enough? What if this person gets in the way? What if something goes wrong? Will God still be there for someone like me when I screw it up?

So we loop on those thoughts, rather than moving ahead to where Jesus speaks of asking, seeking, knocking in our search.  One of our key misunderstandings here is that God should be giving us stuff, but that is why Jesus expounds on the ask-receive concept and talks about bread and fish. An earthly father knows not to give his son a snake--whether his son asks for a snake or a fish. Your Heavenly Father knows if what you are asking for is really a snake or a fish, and knows what to give you.

Just like He knows what your neighbor asked for and really needed--or didn't!--and judged more rightly than you would what they deserved.

You see, if we will work though all three of these paragraphs together, we will grasp what is being said. Start with knowing that you should ask God for that which you need and trust Him to know how to answer. Then, keep your focus where it belongs: walking with Jesus and trusting God. And you will find much of your anxiety will disappear without any direct effort.

It's like recognizing that you can mop up the water that leaks out every time you run the dishwasher or you can find the leak source and cut if off. We often fight anxiety, but that's like mopping every leaked dropped. You'll be exhausted and eventually ineffective. But if you track down the source, hone in on trusting God with yourself, then there are far fewer leaks.

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