SOTM: Matthew 5:38-42 (Pacifism)

smartbombs

McKnight argues in Sermon on the Mount (The Story of God Bible Commentary) for a strictly pacifist interpretation of Jesus’ words. And I have great sympathy for that position. But I can’t quite make myself totally buy into it.

On the other hand, neither do I believe that the Congress and the President are the final word on what God’s will regarding war — and sometimes they get it wrong. When that happens, it better to obey God rather than man. The government of the United States is not our god and does not save us. Not really.

So the choices aren’t between pacifism and American jingoism. I can reject pacifism and also oppose some of the wars the US fights.

In fact, one of the great blind spots of the American Churches of Christ, as well as most other evangelical and fundamentalist denominations, is confusing patriotism — jingoism, really — with Christianity, so that we feel obliged as good Christians to support every war launched by our leaders. Rather, we should hold the government to God’s standards. But few Christians ever pause to ask whether a given war is consistent with biblical teaching.  Continue reading

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SOTM: Matthew 5:38-42 (What we deserve vs. mercy, Part 2)

SOTMEven if we were to agree on the principles announced by Jesus, the application of these principles is really tough.

Some argue that we should give to those who ask even if by so doing we enable laziness. But Paul wrote,

(2Th 3:10-12 ESV)  10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.  11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.  12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 

Clearly, the command to give to the one who begs is speaking of the truly poor. And in Jesus’s day, it wasn’t that hard to know who was and wasn’t poor. The poor had no land to farm. The poor had no trade at which to labor. The poor could not put food on the table without public or private charity. Continue reading

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SOTM: Matthew 5:38-42 (What we deserve vs. mercy, Part 1)

SOTM

(Mat 5:38-42 ESV) “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”

“Do not resist the one who is evil” has led to countless interpretations. But I find myself in agreement with this reading —

Jesus is not teaching that one should lie down in the face of evil or submit to evil; rather, he is teaching that we should forego trying to “get back at,” or take revenge on a quarrelsome neighbor. As Proverbs 24:29 says: “Do not say, ‘I will do to him as he has done to me. I will pay the man back for what he has done.'”

Jesus is expressing an important principle which applies to our relationships with friends and neighbors. It does not apply when we are confronted with a murderer, rapist, or like person of violence; nor when we are facing the enemy on the field of battle. Jesus is not talking about how to deal with violence. He is talking about the fundamentals of brotherly relationships, about how to relate to our neighbor. Continue reading

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SOTM: Matthew 5:38-42 (Let the punishment fit the crime)

Very fun video. Lyrics relevant to the post start at 3:05, but I wouldn’t skip anything. [Lyrics in the video have been updated, very cleverly. The original follows. For those not familiar with the work of Gilbert & Sullivan, here’s a link.]

Mikado:
A more humane Mikado never
Did in Japan exist,
To nobody second,
I’m certainly reckoned
A true philanthropist.
It is my very humane endeavour
To make, to some extent,
Each evil liver
A running river
Of harmless merriment.

My object all sublime
I shall achieve in time —
To let the punishment fit the crime —
The punishment fit the crime;

And make each prisoner pent
Unwillingly represent
A source of innocent merriment!
Of innocent merriment! Continue reading

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SOTM: Matthew 5:33-37 (Swearing)

SOTM

(Mat 5:33-37 ESV) “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No'; anything more than this comes from evil.”

Hmm …

How can this be so when God himself has been known to utter the occasional oath? Continue reading

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SOTM: Matthew 5:31-32 (Divorce, the Ethics)

SOTMOne last, very important point. “Divorces” in Mat 5:32 translates a word meaning to release, let go, or dismiss. The word was routinely used of ending a marriage, and so we translate “divorce,” but that’s not quite right. There’s a huge cultural divide we have yet to navigate.

You see, in American law, a husband cannot divorce his wife except with the consent of state government. A court proceeding is required.

In contemporary practice, the court really can’t say no. No-fault divorce laws mean that anyone asking for a divorce is going to get one, but only if they file a petition in court and let the court resolve property rights and custody of the children. To an American, “divorce” is a privilege granted by the government.

Back in the 1960’s and earlier, many states would not grant a divorce except for adultery or cruelty. Laws varied, and some couples who had grown to despise each other could not end their marriages. The result was a “quickie divorce” industry where couples traveled to other states to obtain a divorce from a more lenient legal system. Continue reading

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SOTM: Matthew 5:31-32 (Divorce, the Grammar)

SOTM

(Mat 5:31-32 ESV) “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.”

“Marries” in v. 32 means, in the Greek, marries. Really. Therefore, if a divorced woman remarries, she really marries. There is nothing in the text suggesting that the marriage is void. Jesus says it’s a marriage, and therefore it’s a marriage.

“Divorces” in v. 32 means divorces. Really. The marriage is ended. Jesus is not saying that the original marriage continues. No, he quite plainly calls what happens a “divorce” not “an attempted divorce.” Continue reading

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SOTM: Matthew 5:31-32 (Divorce, the OT background)

SOTM

(Mat 5:31-32 ESV) “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.”

This is, of course, one of the most controversial passages in the Bible. I’ve written an eBook on marriage, divorce, and remarriage (“MDR” in Internet parlance) But If You Do Marry. And we covered the book and all the relevant scriptural passages in an earlier series. Anyone wishing to discuss another MDR passage is welcome to do so at an earlier post dealing with that passage. But I’d like to avoid having to repeat an entire book’s worth of material here.

Now, up to this point in the SOTM, we’ve been interpreting Jesus’ “but I say unto you” teachings as deeper interpretations of the OT, read in light of the character of God as revealed in Jesus. That is, Jesus is not issuing new laws but showing us how the Torah is to be read in the Kingdom. Continue reading

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Christopher Tin: Calling All Dawns

Grammy winning international album, with English subtitles. Begins with the Lord’s Prayer in Swahili.

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SOTM: Matthew 5:27-30 (Lust, Part 2)

SOTMWho’s to blame?

Notice that Jesus does not blame the woman for how the man thinks of her. Jesus is very plainly making the point that men can control their thoughts. But this does not mean that women aren’t accountable for how they dress or for flirting with men they cannot have.

After all, a woman who loves her neighbor would not want to tempt men to sin — even if it’s ultimately that man’s choice. Why tempt him at all? Why be selfish?

I pity any minister or eldership that needs to confront women in their church about how they dress. Women can be incredibly defensive about their clothing choices — and unspeakably naive about how their clothing affects the men around them.

Now, there are some churches where the leadership is so caught up in legalism that they make foolish demands on women. But in the vast majority of cases, the reason the leadership is objecting to how a woman dresses is because the men are complaining — because they don’t wish to be tempted or distracted. They find the woman’s revealing dress a problem for their own obedience to God and are asking for help. A woman who refuses is acting in an unspeakably selfish way. Continue reading

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