Sunday, March 23, 2014

Living Jesus: Context (pt 2)

We are going through this series of Bible classes on the Sermon on the Mount with a team of three teachers. We each teach for two weeks, then the next guy is up.

The text of last week's lesson was Matthew 7:1-12

My handy-dandy NIV Study Bible tells me that this is two separate and distinct sections.
First, verses 1-6 is about "Judging Others"
Then, 7-12: "Ask, Seek, Knock"

What should I do for class?
Focus on one or the other or somehow divide the class time between the two lessons?

Then I read the section in the Randy Harris book, Living Jesus that deals with this text. He lumps the whole thing together and speaks of this idea of us being "generous" people because God has lavished His generosity upon us.


Thanks for turning the light on for me Randy. How could I not have seen this before?

Verse 12 provides a great bookend for 1&2: to others what you would have them do to you... the same way you judge others, you will be judged...

When separate we are taught that we should not judge others, but perhaps after some self-reflection and prayer we can help out brothers with their struggles. Then we are taught that (traditionally) if we ask anything of God, He will give you what you ask. We usually buffer the idea of God as Santa Claus with James 4:3 (must have right motives) & 1 John 5:14 (must be in line with God's will).

If we look at 1-12 as one cohesive teaching unit then the asking and seeking and knocking would be understood in light of not judging others and doing to others what we would want them to do to us.

What are we asking for?
We can presume that Jesus is not speaking literally when we speaks of fish and snakes and bread and stones. He is saying, "Who would do that?" and the answer is "No sane person would"

I think that essentially, what we are asking for is wisdom.

Here is my take.

in 1-5 Jesus tells His audience not to judge each other. Then He gives an example of what it looks like when some people go around trying to nitpick the sin in other people's lives when their own lives are fraught with it. It looks ridiculous.
We often overlook that Jesus then says that the man with the plank in his eye should remove it and then go help his brother who has a speck in their eye.
This is where that tricky verse 6 comes into play (do not cast your pearls before swine).
This is the other side of Jesus' real teaching here.

I just have to take a moment to say that I don't hate Bible editor's divisions and headings, but we have to recognize the power they have over us as we interpret the Word of God. Every time you read Matthew 7, in nearly any English Bible you read it from, you will be directed to believe that this section is about judging others. It is not evil to believe that, but it is a little misleading. How we judge each other is definitely part of what is being taught in this Scripture, but it is not the main point. The main idea is about how we treat other people (which includes judging/not judging).

So in verse 6 Jesus is tapping into His education and remembering everything He was taught about wisdom and fools. Fools hate wisdom. Fools will reject wisdom. So here you are now. You were a hypocrite. But now you have rightly seen the plank in your own eye and you can see clearly to help your brother remove the speck from his. Jesus says, "Be careful! You can have a pure heart and good intentions, but some people will respond in vicious ways if you mess with their specks."

In my mind now I hear someone from the crowd respond to Jesus, "Master, what should we do then?"

Jesus says, "Ask God....

    see the plank in your eye and remove it
                 be able to discern who to help
                             not be a hypocrite/not be a harsh judge of others
                                            be generous like God is generous

A good place to start, a good rule of thumb is to treat other people the way that you would want to be treated.

In the end this whole section becomes a lot less about not judging and a lot more about actually helping other people.

Proverbs 2:3-5

New American Standard Bible (NASB)
For if you cry for discernment,
Lift your voice for understanding;
If you seek her as silver
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
Then you will discern the fear of the Lord
And discover the knowledge of God.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Living Jesus: Context (pt 1)

Studying the Bible is most definitely a fruitful endeavor.
Although there are some aspects of Bible study that should be clear to nearly any reader, there are verses and sections in which the reader has to dig deeper to find out what is going on. If anyone is teaching someone else how to interpret the Scriptures, a necessary lesson is the lesson of context. Basically, a Scripture should be interpreted based on the Scriptures around it.

Then comes the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus divulges so many juicy morsels of teaching soundbites that it becomes so very easy to dive in, find what we want and get out while easily ignoring the context. The people who kindly divided up our Bible's have, in the case of the Sermon that we read in Matthew 5-7,  done us a bit of a disservice by adding a new heading every time it seems as if Jesus is switching topics.

In Living Jesus, Randy Harris says he wants the focus of the study to be living the life Jesus is teaching about, not dissecting the Sermon and arguing about what it means.

That being the case I was quite pleased when Randy, in my opinion, "rightly divided" a couple of the Scriptures in the Sermon that are commonly used out of context:

Matthew 6:22-23a "The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness." (NASB)

The common misinterpretation, especially in modern times with our nation's pornography epidemic, is that we need to be careful what we look at. If we set our eyes on detestable things, those unholy images will corrupt our souls.

This does not fit the context at all however.

Matthew 6:19-21 tells us not to store up treasures in heaven. Matthew 6:24, says that you cannot serve both God and money.

Why would Jesus stop in the middle of making a point about not focusing on money and being greedy and serving it to say, "And by the way, don't look at picture of naked women!"
(I'm not suggesting that we should do so, just that it is not the proper application of these verses)

So what does it mean?
The new NIV that came out in 2013 helps us out a little. It interprets the word "bad" as "unhealthy" and has a footnote that "unhealthy here implies stingy." They also note that in verse 22, what the NASB says is "clear" is "healthy" and then that "healthy implies generous."

Deuteronomy 15:9 is a good Scripture reference here. It is a verse that speaks about the coming 7th year, which for the Jews meant that they would be cancelling all debts against them. What could happen when that date is coming near is that some Jews might get stingy and decide not to make the loan because so little of it would ever actually get paid back. Here we have the NIV saying, "do not show ill will toward the needy person." The NASB, which is more literal says, "Beware that... your eye is hostile toward your brother."

The concept of relating the eye to generosity makes sense. There are at least two Proverbs that seem to carry the theme:

Proverbs 28:22, "A man with an evil eye hastens after wealth And does not know that wealth will come upon him."

Proverbs 28:27, "He who gives to the poor will never want, But he who shuts his eyes will have many curses."

Considering what the Old Testament teaches about the evil or hostile eye and then looking again at the context of what Jesus is teaching, it becomes more clear what Jesus meant by the clear/healthy eye versus the bad/unhealthy one:

If we put our treasures are made up or earthly things and we are greedy then we are serving money and not serving God. That life and attitude is ultimately a very dark one. If we have our treasures in heaven, then we will be much more generous with our earthly resources and the person who serves God will have a life that is full of light.

Before closing I want to mention Dr. Bruce Terry who taught my Scripture Interpretation class at Ohio Valley University. Thanks Dr. Terry for stressing context and shedding light on the Scripture above and the ideal of the "evil eye" in the OT.

In part 2 we will look at Matthew 7:7-11