Tuesday, January 5, 2010

January 6

OT: Gen. 13:5-15:21

Remember Abram the liar, who sold out his wife in the last reading? Well, he has undergone some serious character development! In today's reading, he is the man!

First, he proves that treating others better than yourselves can be practical, can "work." In separating from Lot, Abram lets his nephew choose first and thus, gives him the choicest land. And guess what? It all works out for him. Lot's selfish choice lands him in a cesspit of sin (Sodom), and he gets captured and carried off in a subsequent military defeat. Then, Abram does with 318 men what five kings and their armies failed to do: defeat Kedorlaomer and company. Next, the king of Sodom comes with his hat in hand asking for his people back and offering to let Abram keep all the plunder. Rather than succumb to temptation, Abram prudently refuses to accept anything from him. (The mysterious Melchizedek, featured so prominently in Hebrews, makes his appearance, too. For me, context shed no further light on him.)

After refusing the spoils of war, God appears to Abram and assures him, "I am your shield, your very great reward." And then suddenly, our hero becomes a bit petulant. Maybe petulant is not a fair descriptor. But he pours out his heart to God and questions him about his lack of children. (See, questions are not bad. Abram asks another big one in v. 8, and God is totally cool with it. He knows we're human.)

In Romans, Paul really emphasizes Abram's response to God in verse 6: "Abram believed the Lord, and it was credited to him as righteousness." Paul's point is that righteousness comes through faith and not through obedience of the law, which brings us to my questions about...

NT: Matt. 5:27-48

Big question of the day: What is the point of the Sermon of the Mount? I've always thought that it is to show how outward actions are not enough--how following the letter of the Law is not enough--to attain righteousness. In his sermon, Jesus shifts the focus to the inside, to the heart. He tells us not to be angry and not to have lust in our hearts. He tells us to love our enemies with a love so strong that we do not resist an evil person and that we do not expect what we lend to be repaid. And then he sums it all up with, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

So here's my question: Are these all things that we can do, that we are expected to do? Does Jesus "raise the bar" on the Law, as I've always interpreted? Or is this impossible for man? Is the point of his sermon to make clear what the Law was supposed to show us: our own sinfulness? In Romans 7, Paul describes the awareness of our depravity as the purpose of the Law. The point of the Law, he maintains, is to show us that we can't fulfill the Law. But a problem arose with the Pharisees and teachers of the Law: they thought that they could fulfill the Law. They thought they could achieve righteousness on their own, which was very dangerous. And Jesus' point was that they couldn't--because the perfection demanded by the Law extends to people's hearts, not just their actions. That's why He says, "Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the Kingdom of heaven." Because it takes perfection to enter heaven.

So maybe the point of the Sermon on the Mount is to show us that we can't do it on our own, that we need God's Spirit.

What do you think? This type of thinking (the type that I'm doing right now) strikes me as very dangerous. ("Oh, don't worry! God doesn't expect you to actually love your enemy! That's crazy!") But at the same time, the argument seems to fit perfectly into Paul's theology set forth in Romans. Paul is all about how our actions cannot save us; it is God's grace. Paul seems to think that faith is the most important thing.

Of course, that's not to say that actions don't matter. In John 14, Jesus says three times some version of the statement, "If you love me, you will obey my commands." James very much affirms the importance of actions. Faith without works is dead, he says. And our most specific picture of Judgment, found in Matt. 25, seems to indicate that the basis on which we will be ultimately judged will be the loving actions we showed to the weak and poor and unlovable.

So I'm not negating the importance of actions; I am just wondering about the point of the Sermon on the Mount. What do you think? I'm kind of confusing myself here, so I would love some feedback.

Psalm 6: 1-10

Is it weird that I love prayers like this? I love seeing evidence of an imperfect, confused soul pouring his heart out to God. It is very relatable. I can't exactly relate to the heroics of Abram, who defeated an army with only 318 men. But I can relate to this guy. He is honest and authentic before God. He doesn't have all the answers, but he takes everything he does have--his sorrow, his confusion, his pain--and gives it all to God.

Prov. 1: 29-33

More of the same. Foolish waywardness will kill you; wisdom will save you. Preach on!:)


  1. I may be way off here, but it seems to me that the whole Sermon on the Mount is a comparison between the old law and the ways of his audience of the Jews/Pharisees/Law abiding God's people, to the new concept of heart-focused law that Jesus is introducing to the world (first to the jews). I wouldnt think that a different audience would get the whole "you have heard it was said..." because they hadnt heard that.

    The people he was speaking to were people who had lived by the letter of the law for centuries. He is coming on there and turning their world upside down by suggesting that it goes beyond just not killing your brother, but taking a step further and not even being angry at him! Its crazy!

    But, i think it flows well into the ministry of post-jesus death when the likes of Paul take up the offensive and continues to relate ideas of law/righteousness in Romans. I think the words of the Sermon of the Mount were warm up, to be heeded for sure and relevant for us but sort of first step understanding. Its all about the heart, which is moved by faith. The action is a result of that turn to heart focus. The redeeming factor is no longer the law (it failed in his attempt to perfect man ..Romans something) but the heart that goes into following the law. A heart that follows the law of "do not murder" will not even get close to it, because it will not even allow itself to be angry at his brother. The action is no longer free standing, no longer enough to do the redeeming job.

    Backtracking a bit, I think it is so interesting how we are reading of the birth of the "set-apartness" AND the in someways the death of that physical set-apartness at the same time. Seeing the world of the OT as the lawless, evil world that it seems it was at the time, and how birth of a people whose very lives are based on law ..its interesting. I see how a heart shift was not possible at the time.

    Mom always said, "you must understand the law, before you remember grace." She spoke of this in teh context of raising children, when it is imperative for our little tiny ones to understand both the rules and the consequences of their actions. Once they understand what breaking the rules gets them, THEN they understand the grace that comes when their deserved punishment is withheld.

    I can see how it was necessary for God to take the world in its profound awfulness and take it to a place of redemption through establishing law, then grace ...knowing that the transition would be rough, and ultimately lead to death of his Son.

    I think it illustrates how profoundly important it was for God to get us back to Him. He knew the move from rebellious children to a Body of His woudl be long and heart-breaking!

    I think its facinating to see this transition as we read the OT/NT next to each other.

    Oh..and Psalms and Prov were great too :)

  2. I love that your times show that I was up and thinking that deeply at 6am :) I wasnt :)

  3. (Gen) Once again, the stress is on making good choices, good decisions, putting others first. It is difficult. Eventhough you may not see immediate results, keep your eyes open so you don't miss it. After Abram allowed Lot to pick, time passed; maybe it wasn't obvious to Abram of the blessing he received from God by doing the right thing. So maybe the next lesson here is that we shouldn't "do" and then "expect". As His children, we should DO and TRUST. (Matthew) Kim, I believe that your thoughts were spot on. Jesus came to fulfill the law b/c we cannot. Only His mercy and grace and forgiveness allows our perfection. So should we just keep on sinning? After all, it's really impossible for us to be perfect. No way...it's because of this marvelous gift that we strive all the more to "be perfect" b/c we have such a heart of gratitude for what Christ has done for us and is doing for us. (Psalm) Just pour out your heart to Him. He already knows everything, but He wants you to give Him every detail of your life, the good and the bad. It's called a personal relationship.

  4. I second everything already said, but I want to add that I think there is significance in the struggle itself. We know that it isn't all about us following the law perfectly... because we can't. However, it also isn't all about us doing whatever the heck we want just because we have grace. I think it is right to teeter between these two extremes as we strive for a closer relationship with God. For me personally, I am glad that I struggle with sin, not that I am glad for the sin itself, but the struggle gives me a project to work on with God, which makes us closer. I have to rely on Him to keep from sinning (I mean that very literally... I pray for God to keep me from sinning, and I believe that He does that... except when my faith falters, which is quite often). :) Again, it is all about the relationship.

    Also, I would say that most, if not all, of the laws were/are for our own benefit anyway. It goes back to the wisdom thing. Sure, we CAN get angry at our brother, but that anger will eventually eat us up inside... so it is better for ourselves not to do it. (Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.) We CAN take the section of land that looks the most appealing and stick our uncle with the already used up pasture... but then we might get captured by an invading army...

  5. Ha, Becky:). I like your last thought there.

    Mom reminded me that Paul ran into the same conundrum as I did when he laid out the theology of grace and faith. He anticipates an obvious response to that theology when he asks, "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" Rom. 6:1-2

    Okay, it is all making more sense to me, thanks largely to all of your comments. It's funny--I've read Romans 6 a billion times, but I had to rediscover the concepts in light of my "new" interpretation of the sermon on the mount. For some reason, it threw me for a loop when it REALLY began to sink in that many of Jesus' commands there were utterly impossible by human standards.

    My reaction to today's reading of the sermon on the mount reminds me of Jesus' disciples reaction to his proclamation on wealth after talking to the rich young ruler. "When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, 'Who then can be saved?' Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'"

    And, as I was just typing that out, I noticed that it emphasized that Jesus looked at them when He said it. It didn't say, "Jesus answered," or "Jesus replied." It said, "Jesus looked at them and said". Apparently, this was a concept he really wanted his disciples to "get."

    Thanks, everyone!

  6. 2012 Thoughts:

    In the OT, I just wanted to mention that Melchizedek was the king of Salem, and Salem is not mentioned anywhere else in the passage. That's weird to me, b/c the passage mentions a lot of countries and armies fighting each other. But not Salem--that comes out of nowhere.