At the time of Jeremiah’s ministry, the northern kingdom of Israel had been captured and exiled by the Assyrians, and now over 100 years later, the southern kingdom, Judah, was about to be conquered by the Babylonians.
“So Barnabas and Saul were sent out by the Holy Spirit…Saul, also known as Paul, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he looked the sorcerer in the eye…Then he said….the Lord has laid his hand of punishment upon you, and you will be struck blind…When the governor saw what had happened, he became a believer, for he was astonished at the teaching about the Lord.” (Acts 13:4,9-12, NLT)
Barnabas and Paul’s first missionary journey was undertaken by the leading and in the power the Holy Spirit.
“Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times? No, not seven times, Jesus replied, but seventy times seven!” (Matthew 18:21-22, NLT)
In a series of stories and parables Jesus explained how His followers should get along with one another.
So Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him.
Peter probably supposed with his suggestion of seven times he was being magnanimous. But Jesus’s recommendation of seventy times seven was astounding!
While it is quite ordinary behavior not to allow someone to mistreat you repeatedly, but it is most extraordinary behavior to forgive them if they do!
And Jesus constantly encouraged such radical behavior from those who followed Him.
But this radical behavior can’t be formulated into a list of do’s and dont’s. It’s a matter of the heart, a lifestyle!
Jesus’s intention was not to create good people out of His disciples, but to establish God’s righteousness in their hearts.
And forgiveness was a matter of the heart, a lifestyle, not a one-time, or seven-time, or seventy-time, or even seventy-times-seven behavior.
C.S. Lewis once said that improvement is not redemption. He said that being Jesus’s disciple was more than a matter of being a nice person, or even an extremely nice person!
Jesus is preparing us for eternity and so the real issue is not how many times your were nice to somebody but how your heart is. Not what your are, but what you are becoming!
Unfortunately, our understanding of what Jesus was teaching us about God’s righteousness is sometimes based on a sort of Santa Claus theology: “He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!”
And then we become like Peter in this story.
We perceive God as being up in heaven keeping a list of how many times we have been naughty or nice. And, if at the end of our lives we have more good behavior than bad behavior, then we make it into heaven.
But God is not keeping score to determine your eternal outcome.
And you couldn’t be good enough, even if He was. God knows that. That’s why He sent His Son, Jesus, to conquer sin and death for us!
Eternity starts now and how you choose to spend your eternal life is not a matter of being naughty or nice. It’s a matter of a transformed heart and a redeemed life, which occurs when God imputes His righteousness into your life by your faith in Jesus, God’s Son.
In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, much of the focus for discussion is often on the first part of the Sermon containing the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 and the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6.
In fact, the last admonition of Jesus in Chapter 6: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (vs. 6:33, HCSB), somehow seems to conclude the Sermon.
But Jesus provided many instructions for His disciples in Matthew 7 as well! The Golden Rule that we all learned as children is vs. 12.
The behaviors Jesus identified in these additional instructions in Matthew 7 were taught in the context of eternal life.
In other words, these are instructions we should live by in our present life in preparation for eternal life.
When Jesus said to treat others the way you want to be treated (the Golden Rule), He meant the criteria you apply when making judgments about other people could be the criteria God applies in determining your place in eternity.
So here’s some additional instructions from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7 that will help us live a life focused on God’s Kingdom and eternity:
- Pardon and forgiveness (Matthew 7:1-5). While these verses seem to be saying do not be judgmental or critical toward others, the real message is to be abounding in pardon and forgiveness toward others as God is toward you. If God is exceedingly merciful toward you, then you should certainly be the same toward others.
- Discretion (Matthew 7:6). While admission to God’s Kingdom is available to all human beings, it cannot be and should not be forced either directly or indirectly on anyone. While this admonition is certainly not meant as a condemnation of any class, race, educational level, or socio-economic class of any human beings, Jesus’s disciples should direct their efforts at proclaiming the Kingdom of God to those people—individually or collectively—with whom their efforts can be productive and not argumentative.
- Mutual loving relationship with God (Matthew 7:7-11). The basis for establishing a personal and intimate relationship with God is based on the interaction of giving and receiving. Jesus is saying that the Heavenly Father wants to give you all aspects of abundant and eternal life if you are willing to receive it. We know this is not hyperbole because Jesus says that even people who do not know God love their children and love to give them gifts. In Luke’s version of these verses the “good gifts” are the gift of the Holy Spirit—the Heavenly Father gives His Own Spirit to dwell in the His children.
- Respect for humanity (Matthew 7:12). Known as the Golden Rule, this verse sets the universal standard for getting along with others. You have to start with a basic respect for human beings.
- Convictions/principles (Matthew 7:13-14). Know what you believe and stand up for your beliefs because it is always easier to follow the way of evil (through the wide gate) than it is to follow God’s way (through the narrow gate).
- Discernment (Matthew 7:15-20). Following the instructions of Jesus will sharpen your senses so that you can better recognize what proceeds from good and what proceeds from evil. A good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit (or no fruit). It is the same way with people, so determine what kind of fruit a person is bearing and you will know what kind of person he or she is.
- Obedience (Matthew 7:21-27). By obeying the instructions of Jesus you will fulfill God’s will for your life. When the challenges of life confront you, you won’t fall apart because your faith is built on the absolutes of God’s will and God’s truth and reality.
“So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24, HCSB).
In fact, His listeners probably asked themselves, what does the first have to do with the second? What does “offering your gift on the altar” have to do with “be reconciled with your brother?”
Loving God is all about loving people.
But even with the Sermon on the Mount to guide us, we sometimes still compartmentalize our religion.
We tend to want to practice our religion at church but not necessarily at home, at work, and certainly not in our relationships with other people–especially when they don’t like us or we don’t like them!
But Jesus said that our religion is a heart thing; therefore, we can’t put it away somewhere on Sunday evening and then take it back out the next Sunday morning.
When God’s Spirit indwells you, it’s comprehensive! The totality of your behavior in every aspect of your life should be considered an act of worshiping God.
[Written in memory of my good friend and mentor, Dr. Otey Johnson]
“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” The Apostle Paul encourages the Colossian Christians to be what we would call “charming” or “classy” to non-Christians. Their conversation should be polite toward others and filled with wisdom and understanding about the gospel message. Paul’s comments assume that the Colossian believers regularly interact with non-believers in their local community. Paul wants the Colossian Christians to make a good impression on non-believers in a way that would commend the gospel to them. To win people to Jesus, you must be an example in your behavior, conduct, and conversation of the love and grace of God. The best way for non-believers to find Jesus is to see Him in you!