Put Away Falsehood, Speak Truth

Speaker: Patrick Severson
Series: Quarantine 2020
Sermon Info:
This is an online devotional service offered during the corona virus quarantine, since we cannot gather for public worship. There are three Scripture readings; Psalm 86:8-12, Psalm 15, and 1 John 2:1-17. The sermon is based upon Ephesians 4:25, looking at how we are called to put away falsehood and speak truthfully in all our interactions as the people of God.

Matthew 5:27-32 Reading

Matthew 5:27-32

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. 31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

A few thoughts for meditation:

In this next application of the law in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus moved to the next commandment, “you shall not commit adultery.” What does true obedience look like to this commandment? The common misunderstanding at the time was that so long as you don’t commit physical adultery, you have kept the commandment. But Jesus explained the command applies to the secret desires of the heart as well. To look at someone beside your spouse “with lustful intent” was already committing adultery in his heart, and therefore guilty before God and worthy of judgment in “hell”. Jesus said earlier in the sermon, only the “pure in heart” will see God. The marriage bond applies to your thoughts and affections as well as your bodies. Your sexual, romantic, and intimate desires are to be focused and fulfilled only with your own spouse. This was God’s design when he created marriage in the beginning, binding sexual passion and energy within the security of marriage, to promote human flourishing and provide a stable loving home within which to raise children. Lust creates a crack in that marriage commitment and if nurtured or pursued it will deteriorate into a failed marriage and a broken family.

Since great dangers are rooted in lust, you must combat against it vigilantly. Jesus used graphic language to describe this spiritual struggle, plucking out the eye or cutting off the hand, to gain heaven maimed rather than going to hell intact. Jesus is obviously speaking metaphorically. Otherwise he would have contradicted what he just said, that the true danger was lust in the heart. But that mentality of mortal combat against lust is the mindset required by the commandment, “you shall not commit adultery.” Lust is not a “little harmless sin” but one that leads to self-destruction. At the very least, it means aggressively turning your eyes from that other person and refusing to “look” at them in a lustful way. The “hand” likely conveyed the idea that lust and adultery are also acts of theft, taking what does not belong to you, and so you must mentally (and physically) keep your hands off. That aggressive mindset is difficult to grasp when immersed in a culture where lust is promoted in almost every commercial or show. We can get desensitized to how sinful it is. Jesus’ words here still shock people even today, and they should. Our lives are to be lived before the face of God. He sees all our thoughts and desires and how we respond to them. He gave us the gift of the imagination and we must use it to glorify him just as much as our bodies. Imagine how much marriages would improve if each partner invested their imagination to think of ways to nurture their marriages rather than wasting time lusting after others?

Finally, Jesus applied the seventh commandment to the problem of divorce. Even though the Pharisees of that day loudly denounced adultery, at the same time they made divorce extremely easy, at least for men. If husbands were displeased with their wives, they could give them a certificate of divorce and send them away, and then were free to marry another. It’s fairly easier to see how easy lust would flourish under such a scheme. This low view of divorce was based on a misinterpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1-4. There, Moses commanded that if a man was displeased with his wife for a reason other than adultery he must make a public certificate of divorce if he sends her away. If she marries another he may never marry her again. The intent was to restrain a hardhearted husband and protect the dignity of the wife. It was common in the ancient pagan world for husbands to mistreat their wives by throwing them out as a means of manipulation or even to swap wives with others temporarily. Moses basically said “you won’t treat your wife that way anymore. If you throw her out then she is free of you forever.” But the Pharisees had twisted this passage around and used it to satisfy their adulterous desires by making divorce and remarriage easy, so that they were not “technically” committing adultery. Jesus explained this more fully in Matthew 19. But here, Jesus confronted that popular misunderstanding by explaining that divorce was only permissible in the case of actual “sexual immorality”, a broader term referring to any sexual act with another person outside of the bounds of marriage. Paul would later add desertion as a ground for divorce too (1 Cor 7:15).

But the point of Jesus was clear, true obedience to this commandment applies to the heart not just to the body. Any desire for lust or divorce (apart from Christ’s exception here) is committing adultery in the heart. And no technical loopholes you create in the public laws to make lust or divorce easier will make it any less sinful in the eyes of God. True obedience to God here means our hearts as well as our bodies are committed to the flourishing of our marriages. As with all these commands, Jesus explained this so that we will see our sin and our need for his redemption. He came to save sinners and change them into people who keep the law from the heart again. If you find yourself falling short, then go to him for forgiveness and grace to change.

Matthew 5:21-26 Reading

Matthew 5:21-26

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother 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.  23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,  24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.  25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison.  26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

A few thoughts for meditation:

In this next part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus moved on to practical application of what true obedience looks like. Just what does it look like for your righteousness to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees? He began with how to properly understand the sixth commandment, “you shall not murder”. Jesus confronted the popular misunderstanding of the law with “you have heard it was said”, often quoting the teaching of the Pharisees. But then he corrected that misunderstanding by teaching the true intent of the law. At the same time whenever he said “but I say”, he emphasized his divine authority as the true lawgiver and interpreter. This is why many were amazed at his authority. The other teachers did not teach this way but relied upon the support of other rabbis and scholars.
Here, Jesus quoted the popular misunderstanding of the sixth commandment, that physical murder will lead to judgment. It was a minimal interpretation of the law which allowed for other damaging behavior short of murder. But Jesus applied the law to the motives of the heart. Whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, not just the one who murders. In God’s sight, murderous attitudes will condemn you, not just murderous actions. Jesus then expanded that condemnation to include spoken insults (including what you post on social media…). True obedience means you preserve and protect your neighbors life not only with your hands but with your words and thoughts. The law condemns not only physical murder, but any behavior springing from that desire to harm another person; including malice, revenge, rage, gossip, slander, backbiting. insults, assaults on his possessions or body, and finally murder.
Further, the law condemns not only actions that would kill the body but actions that will kill a good and healthy relationship. Jesus applied the commandment to some practical situations of relational conflict, first with a “brother” and second with an “accuser”. In the first situation, a man is worshiping in church and remembers his brother “has something against” him. The issue is that he has offended or hurt his brother in some way and so he needs to immediately go and make it right, even if it’s in the middle of a worship service. In the second situation, an accuser is in the process of taking you to court for a wrong you have done, and so you must do whatever you can to reconcile and make it right before that happens. In both cases Jesus shifted the emphasis from your “anger” at what others have done to you, to what you have done to others. We should not only be concerned when harmed by others, but concerned when others are harmed by us. It is a common tendency in our pride to under-emphasize the harm we have done to others and over-emphasize the harm they have done to us, which then leads us to dig in and refuse to reconcile until the other person repents first. Jesus here flipped that around. You take ownership for your offenses first whether your brother does or not, and work to make it right. When confronted with your offences, you immediately repent. The sixth commandment not only requires us to give up vengeance and murderous thoughts and desires but to promote life and healthy relationships and attitudes toward others, and to pursue reconciliation both with those we have wronged or who have wronged us. Here again we see the elements of true discipleship and blessing mentioned at the beginning; meekness, hungering for righteousness, merciful, peace-making, blessing those who revile you, etc.
I don’t think I need to expand much more on practical application. You know if you have been harboring hateful thoughts toward others. You know if you have been avoiding reconciliation. You know how you should respond when people confront you. Jesus exposes our sin here so that we will come to him for salvation. Wherever you are falling short, it’s time to confess that to Christ, seek his forgiveness and grace to repent, and then get to work at repairing those wrongs and relationships.

Matthew 5:17-20 Reading

Matthew 5:17-20

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

A few thoughts for meditation:

As Jesus taught his disciples, he was often challenged with the accusation that he was teaching something new which the Old Testament did not teach, especially when he emphasized grace to sinners. But here, Jesus explained that what he taught was nothing new. He did not come to abolish anything from the Old Testament but to fulfill it both in his own obedience and in the obedience required of his disciples. The emphasis on fulfillment here likely refers to the rigorous moral demands of the law, as we will see in the rest of the chapter. Jesus explained how the moral demands applied to the desires of the heart, not just the outward actions. This too was taught in the Old Testament (i.e. thou shalt not covet…) even though it was often forgotten. But Jesus also fulfilled the Old Testament Scripture in other ways. He fulfilled the promises, types, and shadows of the Old Covenant as well. The Exodus redemption, the prophets, kings, priests, sacrifices, even the dietary laws, all pointed to some aspect of his work of redemption. And once he arrived, their provisional instructive status was fulfilled and completed.

Jesus then pronounced a judgment on any teachers of the law who relaxed the demands of the law and taught others to do the same. God’s moral law is non-negotiable. It is the way we were designed to live as men made in the image of God. Any deviation from it only leads to our spiritual harm and destruction. These are the Father’s loving commands given to his children for their flourishing and protection. Only the most faithful teachers would be considered great by God. Those who compromised would be considered least. This directly challenged the pride of a teacher who seeks popular approval. It’s very easy for a preacher to relax the law and gain a large following of people in the short term. But such a preacher will not receive any applause from God for leading his children astray into dangerous conditions.

Finally, Jesus finished with a jaw-dropping statement. At least it would have been to the people of his day. If you want to enter the kingdom of heaven, your righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were the most zealous in Israel at the time for holy living. They were considered the spiritual rock-stars and titans of their day. Outwardly, they would have looked like that. They would have appeared like many prominent successful preachers today in our eyes. They took the Bible seriously. They defended the faith the most against the influence of the pagan world. They kept the religious traditions and history alive. And in fact added even more rules to make sure they didn’t break God’s rules, falling into legalism. But Jesus said even that level of righteousness was not enough to enter heaven. In order to enter heaven, you must have a perfect righteousness.

The effect of this pronouncement was twofold. First, it crushed human pride and boasting. This was an impossible standard for any mere man to meet on his own. For those who took this statement seriously, it drove them to their knees to plead with God for mercy. Second, it forced such people to realize that such a standard was only obtainable by grace alone. God had to act on their behalf. The Old Testament promised that grace as well. That is what Jesus came to do for lost sinners. Through his work of redemption we can exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees as a gift of grace. Through faith in Christ, the perfect righteousness of Christ is counted as our own, so that we can be declared righteous in God’s sight and accepted into his kingdom as a free gift. But even more, through faith in Christ we are gradually transformed into righteous people inside and out. That is how God saves us by grace. He saves us from both the guilt and the power of sin. These are the twin blessings of immediate justification and progressive sanctification. Not only does he cleanse our record but he cleanses our hearts so that when we finally stand before God after death, we shall be completely transformed into a righteous man, like Christ himself. The solution to legalism is not relaxing the law. Neither is the solution to moral laxity more legalism. Instead, we need more of Jesus. Genuine love and gratitude to Christ removes the need for man-made rules or traditions to keep us faithful. When we are forgiven and changed by Christ, and know Christ more, that love fuels the desire for genuine repentance and obedience from the heart to our God and Savior.

Matthew 5:13-16 Reading

Matthew 5:13-16

13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

A few thoughts for meditation:

After explaining the character of a true follower of Christ, Jesus used two illustrations to explain the kind of influence disciples should have in the fallen world, salt and light.

Disciples are “salt of the earth”. In the ancient world, salt was used not only to season food but as a preservative. Meat would last longer when treated with salt. But, back then, the salt was impure, often mixed with other compounds. So it was possible for the salt to leech out of the mixture, leaving behind the other compounds. The salt would therefore lose it’s saltiness. It had no preservative value after that happened. And so it was thrown outside. Jesus used this picture to demonstrate the necessity of his disciples to retain their moral virtue and devotion to God. It helps to restrain the evil in the world around them. Jesus warned them that If they compromised with the world in order to get along, then they would lose their preservative influence and become of no use to God and his kingdom.

The second picture is one of light. “You are the light of the world” and a prominent city on a hill”. In this case, we must be unashamed of our public profession of Christ. As God’s people, we bear witness to his gospel with our words and deeds. Faithfulness cannot be lived out in secret. Too often, we are tempted to hide our profession behind the church doors. But that is as foolish as hiding a lamp under a basket. The lamp is lit to provide light. And that is our call as God’s people, to provide light to the community around us. Specifically, the light is our “good works”. Good works are not just a few religious deeds. They are all the ways we live out every sphere of our lives in obedience to Jesus; our personal choices, our marriage, our family, our work, our church, and any other way we interact with others. We live in love and obedience to Jesus in every place and encounter; loving God and loving neighbor. Through that witness of our words and deeds, we push back the darkness and eventually expose to others their need of Christ and how they may come to Him.

With these two pictures of salt and light, Jesus provided both a negative and positive picture of Christian influence in the world. The first refuses to compromise against the bold pressure of the world. The second pushes back with it’s own bold pressure against the world. Both are necessary parts of our faithful witness to Christ. If true disciples embody the beatitudes they will have this kind of influence.

This provides some good grounds to examine ourselves. Do we compromise too easily? Do we try to hide our association with Christ and his church? Or do we live for Jesus humbly yet unashamed? If we find ourselves falling short, then its useful to go back to the beatitudes. Are you truly poor in spirit? Mourning over your sin? Meek before a merciful God? Truly hungering and thirsting for righteousness? When we find ourselves falling short, we must run back to Jesus for forgiveness, help, and strength to serve him well. Usually, we lose our saltiness and light because the world has become too big and the work of Christ has become too small in our minds. Remember who Jesus is, and what he has done for you, and you will soon desire more people to know him like you do.

Matthew 5:1-12 Reading

Matthew 5:1-12

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

A few thoughts for meditation:

Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount to his disciples to teach them what his kingdom was like, and how a true follower of Christ should evaluate himself and his relationship to God and others. The opening section, often called the Beatitudes, records the spiritual condition of the man who God blesses. And it’s important to see that the values of this kingdom often contradict or reverse the values of this present world.

He began with the “poor in spirit”. It is not the high religious achievers who enter the kingdom but those who recognize that they are spiritually bankrupt and dependent upon God for salvation. They come with empty hands and ask only for mercy. Only those who approach God with that attitude will enter the kingdom of heaven. Not only are they bankrupt, but they “mourn” and grieve over their sin. They do not make excuses or rationalize their disobedience to God. They will also mourn over the trials they endure for following the Lord as Jesus will mention later. But they shall be comforted by God. “Meek” here refers to gentleness and self-control, free from attitudes of revenge or malice. Only these kind of people will eventually inherit the earth from God.

Christ’s description progresses. A disciple “hungers” for righteousness, not only in himself but for the world around him. His new relationship to God creates in him a “homesick” longing for the Messiah to return and set all things right. And this hunger will eventually be satisfied. Next, he is “merciful”. Mercy refers to both his attitude of forgiveness toward those who offend him, and his attitude of compassion toward those who are suffering. This mercy is grounded in the other attributes of spiritual poverty, mourning, meekness, and hunger for righteousness. People of such character demonstrate that they have received and understood the mercy of God to themselves. Next, he is “pure in heart”, which means he has a single-minded devotion to Christ and his kingdom, a focus which shoves aside any hypocrisy or distractions. Such will eventually “see God” in the end. Building on these attributes, Jesus described how a true disciple is a “peacemaker”. He works to bring about reconciliation. He longs to see man reconciled to God through the gospel. And he longs to see people reconciled to one another and enjoy communion as neighbors should. Such who labor for that peace show themselves as “sons of God”, reflecting the character of their heavenly Father.

Finally, Jesus went from peacemaking to persecution. Some reject the pursuit of peace with hostility. They reject the gospel message and the reconciliation it can bring. Christians ordinarily face some sort of opposition to the message about Christ which they share. To those who may suffer such injustice, God promises the kingdom. This is the same promise made to the “poor in spirit” earlier. It creates the bookends for this passage. The true disciple and believer embodies all these attributes and looks forward in hope to all these promises. He trusts God to protect him as he strives to love and serve others and to vindicate him when he is opposed or mistreated. To stress this final point, Jesus added even more clarification. Those who face opposition on account of Christ are “blessed”. Normally, we would not describe suffering as a blessing but a sign that we were doing something wrong. But in this case, you are following Christ in the path of the cross and looking forward to life in the world to come. The trials you face now are nothing compared to the joys of heaven later with Jesus. And even more, it means you are following the path and examples of faithfulness set long before by the “prophets”. They too suffered for righteousness sake as they proclaimed God’s word and pointed forward to Christ. This is the “normal” Christian condition in this fallen world, taking up our cross to follow Christ. Some will embrace the message and join us on the road. Some will reject it and continue to oppose God. But that is the only path through which any will experience the saving power of God and eventually see God himself. Much more could be said about these marks of a believer, but hopefully this is enough to begin reflecting over your own heart and mind.

Weekly Devotional Guide (May 25-30)

Memory Verse:

Ephesians 4:24, Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Devotional Readings:

  • Day 1 Matthew 5:1-12
  • Day 2 Matthew 5:13-16
  • Day 3 Matthew 5:17-20
  • Day 4 Matthew 5:21-26
  • Day 5 Matthew 5:27-32

Hymns for the week:

  • Trinity Hymnal 461 Not What My Hands Have Done

1 Not what my hands have done can save my guilty soul;
not what my toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do can give me peace with God;
not all my prayers and sighs and tears can bear my awful load.

2 Thy work alone, O Christ, can ease this weight of sin;
thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within.
Thy love to me, O God, not mine, O Lord, to thee,
can rid me of this dark unrest, and set my spirit free.

3 Thy grace alone, O God, to me can pardon speak;
thy pow’r alone, O Son of God, can this sore bondage break.
No other work, save thine, no other blood will do;
no strength, save that which is divine, can bear me safely through.

4 I bless the Christ of God; I rest on love divine;
and with unfalt’ring lip and heart, I call this Savior mine.
His cross dispels each doubt; I bury in his tomb
each thought of unbelief and fear, each ling’ring shade of gloom.

5 I praise the God of grace; I trust his truth and might;
he calls me his, I call him mine, my God, my joy, my light.
‘Tis he who saveth me, and freely pardon gives;
I love because he loveth me, I live because he lives.

  • Psalter 325

1 Teach me, O LORD, thy way of truth, and from it I will not depart;
that I may steadfastly obey, give me an understanding heart.

2 In thy commandments make me walk, for in thy law my joy shall be;
give me a heart that loves your will, from discontent and envy free.

3 Turn thou mine eyes from vanity, and cause me in thy ways to tread;
O let your servant prove thy word and thus to godly fear be led.

4 Turn thou away reproach and fear; thy righteous judgments I confess;
to know thy precepts I desire; revive me in thy righteousness.