Tag Archives: sermon on the mount

You’ve Got Questions: Tearing Out Our Eyes and Cutting Off Our Hands? (Matt. 5:29-30)

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we read, “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. 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” (Matt. 5:29-30). Very powerful language there. Jesus tells His followers that if their right eye or hand causes them to sin against God, they should remove it and forcibly cast if from them. Why? Because according to Jesus, it’s better to lose their eye (or hand) than to lose their own soul in hell. In the context, Jesus is talking about lust and the urgency of taking action against it, because the cost of doing nothing about it is far more expensive than taking whatever measures necessary to eradicate it from our lives.

So then, we know from the context that Jesus isn’t demanding literal amputation—we know Jesus better than that, and we know the Bible better than that. But His logic makes perfect sense—it’s better to lose a little than a lot. It would be far better for His followers to lose their eye or hand than to lose their own soul in hell.

Should we resort to chainsaws to eradicate lust from our lives? Understand first, that for Jesus’ audience, the right side was seen as more valuable—how many of you are right handed? Likely the majority of you. Most people are right handed, and because of this, they do everything with their right hand. You write with your right hand, hold drinks, spoons and forks to eat, toothbrushes to clean your teeth, use your cellphone, and many other things. If you’re right handed, that’s your dominant hand—it’s more useful and valuable to you than your left.

Jesus is saying that if even what is very valuable to you causes you to sin, then it should be cast away and removed from you. The reason why is because of the high cost of doing nothing about it. It will cost you far more to do nothing, than it will to do something about removing the sources of temptation and lust from your life. Pornography might be valuable to you, but you should cast it away forcibly. Sexual relations before marriage might be valuable to you, but you should cast it away from you. Whatever it is that is causing you to sin, even if it is valuable to you, should be cast away from you!

But even further, if Jesus’ audience actually followed His figurative language literally, if they did gouge out their eye and cut off their hand, would this completely take care of the problem? No it wouldn’t—where does Jesus say that adultery takes place? In the heart (Matt. 5:28).

Jesus is saying that, yes lust happens in the heart, but outside sources can and will contribute to it. And if there are sources in our lives that are causing us to lust, we need to take radical measures against them. Jesus’ point here is that it is urgent that action is taken against lust, because it could lead to God’s judgment. If nothing is ever done to conquer lust in your life, then you don’t view it as very serious. If you don’t view sin as serious, then it is very casual to you. If you see it as casual, then you will likely do nothing about it.

Perhaps a short story from church history will illustrate this point. Origen, who was one of the early church fathers, took this command literally and emasculated himself, but immediately found out that he still faced temptations. Ironically, he later wrote, “[The believer] amputates the passions of the soul without touching the body.”¹


1. Cited in Davies, W. D. and Allison, Dale. C. Matthew: A Shorter Commentary (New York, NY: T & T Clark, 2004), 79.

 

Anomaly: Lust, the Lethal Infection (Matt. 5:27-30)

Introduction—Bitten on the Railway

A railway brakeman spent four months in the hospital of Sedalia, Missouri. This was because he was bitten by a tarantula on the tip of his middle finger on his right hand. At the time he felt a sharp twinge of pain, but paid no more attention to it until the finger began to swell. Soon the whole hand and arm were swollen to three times their natural size. Bit by bit the doctors amputated the affected finger, but the wound refused to heal. Finally the entire hand had to go. It was only after 29 amputations that the surgeons were able to stop the spread of the poison. Even then they considered it nearly miraculous that he recovered at all, because the poison had gone through his system.¹

Imagine how you would react in this situation. Likely, you recognize the deadliness of a tarantula’s bite, and if you were in this situation, you’d get help immediately. This is because when you recognize the deadliness of something, you will go to great lengths to avoid it. Think about the urgency of treating a cold versus cancer. Or about the urgency of treating a scab versus an open wound. In our passage of Scripture, Jesus describes something very deadly. Something that is far more deadly than a tarantula bite. Jesus talks about lust in this passage, and teaches us that radical measures should be taken against it because of how deadly it really is.

The Text: Matt. 5:27-30, ESV

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.”

I. The Deed and the Desire (vv. 27-28)

First, the person who lusts for someone already commits adultery in their hearts. Notice first in the text that this is what Jesus says. He shows that the person who lusts has already committed adultery in the heart: “You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (vv. 27-28).

A. The Deed

Jesus quotes the seventh commandment as we all know (Exod. 20:14). This was a prohibiting sexual relations outside of marriage, primarily by a married person. If someone married had sexual relations with anyone besides their spouse, it was known as the act of adultery. The punishment for adultery, like many other sins, was death—both for the “adulterer and the adulteress” (Deut. 22:22; Lev. 20:10).²

Because of the fatal consequences of adultery, the Proverbs are replete with commands against adultery:

“He who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it destroys himself” (Prov. 6:32).

“Keep your way far from her [the adulteress], and do not go near the door of her house” (Prov. 5:8).

Perhaps the most vivid description is in Proverbs 6:27-29:

“Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; none who touches her will go unpunished.”

Jesus’ audience, the Jews, would have understood adultery to be a serious sin, deserving of serious punishment, and carrying terrible consequences. They would have been especially familiar with the famous story of shame and regret that we all know, as told by the author of 2 Samuel—the story of David and Bathsheba. This grievous sin committed by Israel’s greatest king, this shameful act done by the man after God’s own heart, who penned the larger portion of the most beautiful book in the Bible, the Psalms.

We read in 2 Samuel 11 that David “saw from the roof a woman bathing” (v. 2), and then “he lay with her” (v. 4). From this, she became pregnant (v. 5), and David had Uriah (a commander in his army) deceitfully murdered (v. 17). Jesus says in the first verse of the passage, “You have heard it said, “You shall not commit adultery” (v. 27). He is saying, “You know this commandment.” They knew about David’s fall. They knew about the commandments. Especially the Pharisees and scribes—boy did they know the commandments. Do you recall when they were willing to kill the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11)? They knew the commandments, but apparently they didn’t actually know the commandments, or they would have easily understood Jesus’ next statement.

B. The Desire

Jesus says that even the person who lusts after another person has already committed adultery with them in their hearts: “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (v. 28). Jesus speaks with authority, as the one who has come to fulfill the Law (v. 17), and says “But I say to you.” He is not saying anything different, He is not contradicting God’s commandments, but He is putting His word above the traditions of men and revealing the true intent of the commandment (which the people obviously misunderstood).

So what does Jesus say about lust? “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus says that looking at a woman with lustful intent is adultery in the heart. Why is that? Because, according to Jesus, sin happens in the heart before it happens physically. Before physical adultery is committed, internal adultery has already happened.

Now, just because Jesus says that looking at a woman with lust is adultery, it doesn’t let women off the hook. It doesn’t let anyone off the hook. Jesus doesn’t have mere men in mind here, neither does He specifically women—the point is that adultery happens in the heart by lust. That could be applicable to anyone. It could be lust for the opposite sex, or it could be lust for the same sex (Rom. 1:26-27).

Jesus isn’t saying that a desire for the opposite sex is wrong. God hardwired us to desire the opposite sex. The Song of Solomon illustrates this better than any book of the whole Bible. Listen to the way Solomon admires his bride:

“Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil. Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead” (4:1).

And his bride desired him as well:

“His mouth is most sweet, and his is altogether desirable. This is my beloved and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem” (5:16).

So there’s nothing wrong with desiring the opposite sex—the problem is burning with uncontrollable sexual lust in the heart. That’s where the problem is. The problem is in the heart. Adultery takes place in the heart before it does in the bedroom or the backseat.

It’s because the heart is who we really are. God says that the heart is what He really looks at (1 Sam. 16:7). What goes on in the heart is what’s really going on. It’s who we are: “As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man” (Prov. 27:19). It can’t be trusted: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). So the person who lusts after another has already committed adultery in his heart. That’s the principle Jesus is communicating.

You’ve got a problem with pornography? It’s happening in your heart. You’ve got a problem with lusting after girls? It’s happening in your heart. You’ve got a problem with lusting after men? It’s happening in your heart.

You know, there’s a silent killer very active today. He’s a repeated offender. He kills 400,000 people each year.³ And when you find out who he is, it’s too late. Can you guess his name? His name is heart disease. There can be many symptoms—shortness of breath, chest pain and tightness, constant leg cramps, and other symptoms. It results from clogging and plague build up in your arteries—your vital veins. And it becomes deadly when that clogging reaches your heart. Why? Because your heart is what keeps you alive! It pumps blood so that your body can function correctly. It’s fatal when clogging happens in the heart. Heart attacks that cause death most often happen because it’s in the heart—it’s deadly because it’s in the heart.

That’s what Jesus was saying here. Lust is deadly because it’s in the heart. That’s the first thing we need to recognize. Dealing with the sin of adultery and sexual immorality begins by identifying its source. But is there anything that can be done about it? That’s what Jesus talks about next.

II. The Deliverance (vv. 29-30)

Second, it is urgent that action is taken against lust, because the cost is very high. Notice that not only does Jesus define adultery by saying that it is lust, but listen to what He says concerning dealing with lust:

“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” (vv. 29-30).

Very powerful language there. Jesus tells His followers that if their right eye causes them to sin against God, they should remove it and forcibly cast if from them. Why? According to Jesus, it’s better to lose their eye than to lose their soul. He says the same thing about the right hand.

Of course, we know from the context that Jesus isn’t demanding literal amputation—we know Jesus better than that, and we know the Bible better than that. But His logic makes perfect sense—it’s better to lose a little than a lot. It would be far better for His followers to lose their eye or hand than to lose their own soul in hell.

So what is Jesus talking about? Should we resort to chainsaws to eradicate lust from our lives? Understand first, that for Jesus’ audience, the right side was seen as more valuable—how many of you are right handed? Likely the majority of you. Most people are right handed, and because of this, they do everything with their right hand. You write with your right hand, hold drinks, spoons and forks to eat, toothbrushes to clean your teeth, use your cellphone, and many other things. If you’re right handed, that’s your dominant hand—it’s more useful and valuable to you than your left.

Jesus is saying that if even what is very valuable to you causes you to sin, then it should be cast away and removed from you. The reason why is because of the high cost of doing nothing about it. It will cost you far more to do nothing, than it will to do something about removing the sources of temptation and lust from your life. Pornography might be valuable to you, but you should cast it away forcibly. Sexual relations before marriage might be valuable to you, but you should cast it away from you. Whatever it is that is causing you to sin, even if it is valuable to you, should be cast away from you!

But even further, if Jesus’ audience actually followed His figurative language literally, if they did gouge out their eye and cut off their hand, would this completely take care of the problem? No it wouldn’t—where does Jesus say that adultery takes place? In the heart.

So is He contradicting Himself? No, for lust happens in the heart, but the eye may contribute to lust happening in the heart, and so can the hand. Jesus is saying that, yes lust happens in the heart, but outside sources can and will contribute to it. And if there are sources in our lives that are causing us to lust, we need to take radical measures against them. Jesus’ point here is that it is urgent that action is taken against lust, because it could lead to God’s judgment. If nothing is ever done to conquer lust in your life, then you don’t view it as very serious. If you don’t view sin as serious, then it is very casual to you. If you see it as casual, then you will likely do nothing about it.

And this is a sobering biblical truth: if you do nothing about sin, if you do not repent, then you can safely bet that you’re not saved. John Owen captures this well: “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.”

Concerning the cost of doing nothing about lust that leads to adultery, I read a shocking statistic recently. It read:

“In America adultery is no longer a crime in half the states, and in the others adultery is seldom, if ever, prosecuted. But sexual straying from marriage remains a costly, if not criminal practice. According to a recent estimate, the typical adulterous husband invests almost $26,000 over a four-month period in conducting an extramarital affair. Once his wife discovers his philandering, he can count on another $5,000 in legal bills, plus a $1,800 deposit on a place to live after she ejects him from their home. Apart from its immorality, adultery is a terrible investment. Only 5 percent of men and women who leave their marriages for someone else actually end up marrying that person.”4

Doing nothing about lust is far more costly than getting it out of your lives. Doing nothing will cost us far more than doing something. 

Conclusion: Practical Steps to Fighting Lust

So what can we do about it? Well, Jesus tells us to take whatever measures necessary.5

1) There is freedom through the gospel. For Christians, there is good news. Through the gospel, God has given us a new heart! We don’t have to be enslaved to lust. We can be free because He lives in us. He gives us the power daily to overcome sin, we must simply access it. We have the Holy Spirit living inside of us, and Paul says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). Live by God’s power each day and you won’t have to worry about falling into lust all the time.

2) By God’s power, we must guard against the first tiny thought of evil. We must allow God to make us sensitive to the tiniest speck of evil that floats around us. This happens by soaking up the Word of God—allowing the Bible to dictate our thought life. We’re going to have these thoughts from time to time. It’s impossible to be sinless. But let’s heed Martin Luther’s advice: “It is impossible to keep the devil from shooting evil thoughts and lusts into your heart. But see to it that you do not let such arrows stick there and take root, but tear them out and throw them away.”6

3) We must avoid the occasions of temptations. In other words, in battling lust in the heart, it is pointless to think you can overcome the battle if you thrust yourself into what causes you to lust. F. B. Meyer says, “It is useless to ask God not to lead us into temptation if we thrust ourselves thither.”Stay away from the sources of temptation. Maybe it’s an attractive coworker—don’t be alone with that person. Maybe it’s the internet—don’t invite temptation. Maybe it’s with your boyfriend or girlfriend, don’t ask for tempting situations.

We have seen today that the person who lusts for someone already commits adultery in their hearts, and that it is urgent that action is taken against lust, for it could lead to God’s judgment. If you have been bitten where you commute by the venomous spider of lust—don’t ignore it. Do something about it. Or you will end up losing a lot more than you’d like to lose. Give lust an inch and it will take you a mile. Will you go to whatever lenghts necessary to eradicate lust from your life, however radical it may be? So many people are enslaved by it, don’t let it be you—through the power of God, you can be the Christian who overcomes lust. You don’t have to let it rule you.


1. Tan, Paul Lee. Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times. (Rockville, MD: Assurance Pub., 1979), 138.
2. There is little evidence in Israel’s history that this was ever actually carried out. Still, the penalty of death was to show the severity of the crime, and God’s moral standard of holiness.
3. Kahn, Joel K. 4 Silent Signs You May Have Clogged Arteries. (Reader’s Digest: Dec. 2013) and WebMD, Coronary Artery Disease.
4. Cited in Larson and Elshof. 1,001 Illustrations That Connect. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 257. Yount, David. The Cost of Adultery (knoxnews.com. November 29, 2004).
5. This list is adapted from F. B. Meyer’s practical steps to purifying the mind in How Then Can We Purify the Desires of the Mind? on http://www.preceptaustin.org.
6. Davies, W. D. and Allison, Dale. C. Matthew: A Shorter Commentary (New York, NY: T & T Clark, 2004), 79.
7. Ibid.

Anomaly: Kingdom People Making a Difference (Matt. 5:13-16)

Introduction: Obedience to God is Rebellion

There is a notable quality among the major characters of the Bible: they were different. 

Abraham defied his culture and its standards by following God wherever He called him to go. He didn’t question God about the things we consider important, but simply followed God out of faith and reliance on Him (Gen. 12:1-9). Joseph remained faithful to God in extremely difficult circumstances, when no one would have blamed him for turning against those who had made his life difficult (Gen. 37-50). Moses, while he made plenty of mistakes, still followed the Lord when the whole nation of Israel wandered away from God (see Exodus-Deuteronomy). Joshua obeyed the Lord even when it didn’t make since; and he conquered through God’s strength. And there are many other characters in the Bible who obeyed the Lord when it seemed unreasonable and when it didn’t seem relevant. Even though they made mistakes, these characters are remembered for their faithfulness to the Lord. Among these in the Old Testament are Job, Samson, Ruth, Hannah, Samuel, David, Solomon, Elijah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Hosea, and many others.

In the New Testament, we have a treasury of courageous accounts of obedience to God that defied the culture and standards of the time. Jesus first of all didn’t conform to the legalist religion of the Pharisees, but remained truly obedient to God even to the point of death (Phil. 2:8). Peter preached some of the boldest, fiery sermons recorded in all of Scripture. They flew right in the face of the culture and standards held by the religious rulers, and even those who weren’t religious (Acts 2:14-41; 3:12-26; 4:5-12; 10:28-47; 11:4-18; 15:7-11). Stephen remained faithful to God and even prayed for the forgiveness of those who were killing him, while they were killing him (Acts 7:54-60). Paul was the most influential person to Christianity, apart from Jesus Christ. He was one who counted “everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:8a). Of course, there are many others that could be mentioned, but I believe without question, that our Bibles are replete with bold figures who remained obedient to God when no one else would, and who preached and proclaimed the truth in changing cultures.

Seeing this trend among the characters of Scripture, should not surprise us that the Scriptures themselves describe believers as outsiders:

“You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you shall be mine” (Leviticus 20:26).

“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deut. 7:6)

“They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (Jesus in John 17:16).

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind . . .” (Romans 12:2a)

Sanctified in Christ Jesus . . .” (1 Cor. 1:2b)

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11).

We just don’t belong in this world. Think about it: obedience to God is rebellion in our culture—because hardly anyone is obedient to God. Taking obedience to God seriously will define you in different ways—both good and bad. Divergent. Weird. Peculiar. Abnormal. Strange. Outsider. Or better known as anomaly. 

No one defines what it means to be anomaly better than Jesus. In Jesus’ longest recorded sermon, we’re going to look and see what He says about being an outsider. This sermon is known as the Sermon on the Mount, spanning Matthew chapters 5 through 7. You will see it very evident in this sermon, that what He describes are not found in the people of the world. The actions and characteristics in the way that Jesus pictures in the Sermon are absent in those of the world. In fact, after Jesus finished His sermon, Matthew says that “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matt. 7:28-29). Jesus never continued the status quo; and the people were surprised and blown away by this fact.

The Sermon on the Mount—it’s all about doing things that nobody else is doing. It’s all about true Christian character. It’s all about making a difference in the world for the glory of God. If you live in the way that Jesus talks about here, it will be clearly noticeable that you don’t fit in. Everyday you are confronted with a decision to make. Do you dare live in the way(s) that Jesus describes here? Will you dare to live recklessly in obedience to God, through the ways Jesus describes? Are you ready to accept that challenge? Are you ready to accept the challenge of being anomaly?

With that being said, what do you think Jesus would say about being an outsider? Surprisingly, Jesus begins talking about being an outsider by saying that we as believers are salt and light.

The Text: Matthew 5:13-16, ESV

“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.”

I. Being Salt (v. 13)

A. Jesus Compares the Disciples to Salt (v. 13a)

First of all, notice that Jesus compares the disciples to salt. He says to the disciples, “You are the salt of the earth.” After the discourse on the Beatitudes (5:1-12), Jesus compares the disciples to an earthly element: salt. Immediately, we recognize that this is such a strange comparison. To find out what Jesus means here, it’s helpful to define how salt would have been used in Jesus’ day.

In Jesus’ day, there were many uses for salt (nearly all of them still in use today). It was used as a preservative to prevent corruption, fertilizer, it was used to add flavor, and it was used to symbolize wisdom (Lev. 2:13; Ezek. 43:24). There were other uses still: “It was, among other things, an element in sacrifices, a purifier, a condiment, a preservative—and its several symbolic associations—a sign of purity, of necessity, of loyalty, of peace, of good speech, [and] of wisdom.”¹ It’s not likely that Jesus is limiting His comparison of the disciples to salt to any one of those uses. Because of the wide range of uses, it’s impossible to single out any one.
But essentially, when it comes to the uses of salt—it affects what it comes in contact with right? It affects meats by preserving them, it affects food by adding flavor, it affects ice by melting it, and so on.

That’s what Jesus was saying here. He is talking about making an impact on the world—affecting the world around you. We know this is true from what Jesus says we are the salt of. We, as His disciples are the salt “of the earth.” Jesus wants us to act like salt here, and make an impact. The way we will make a true impact is by being effective, as we will see, for the glory of God. But for now, we will leave it at this: Jesus wants us to make an impact just as salt affects everything that it comes into contact with.

B. The Emphasis: Salt Maintaining its Taste (v. 13b)

Jesus compares His disciples to salt, saying that they are to make an impact on their world. But look what He says next: “But if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?” (v. 13b). Jesus asks a question and gives a warning in the same sentence, emphasizing the importance of salt keeping its taste; this is what He talks about throughout the rest of v. 13.

How can salt lose its flavor? It can be diluted. Have you ever tried to separate salt from water once it is mixed together? That’s what Jesus is talking about here—He’s saying that it is impossible to restore saltiness or flavor to salt once it has been diluted. Jesus’ point is that we will become useless in our effectiveness in making an impact if we allow ourselves to be diluted by the world. The world needs our impact, and we will be useless to the world and being used by God if we allow ourselves to be diluted by the world. A prevalent theme in Scripture is that is impossible to associate or flirt with sin without harming yourself. Do you recall the proverb that says, “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned?” (Prov. 6:27).²

Think about it: if we become diluted by sin, what makes us different from anybody else? If we’re just doing what everyone else is doing how are we influencing others? By God’s grace, we are to resist from being influenced, and instead—influencing others. Influencing but not being influenced.

C. The Consequence of Salt Losing its Taste (v. 13c)

Notice last, in Jesus’ words about salt, that he talks about the consequence of salt losing its taste: “It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet” (v. 13c). Salt that lost its salt-like character would have no value. What Jesus is saying is that His disciples dare not allow the world to dilute their effectiveness, or they belong on the garbage heap. Such Christians will indeed be “trampled” because they are ineffective and useless. Luke has an interesting reading of Jesus’ words here:

“Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 14:34-35).

Jesus says here that if you’ve lost your influence, you’re not even worthy to be among the manure! Christ isn’t saying that if you become diluted by sin that you will lose your salvation, but He is saying that you will lose your effectiveness, and that if you lose your effectiveness, what good are you really accomplishing?

John MacArthur reminds us of this, and he is worth quoting at length:

“With great responsibility there is often great danger. We cannot be an influence for purity in the world if we have compromised our own purity. We cannot sting the world’s conscience if we continually go against our own. We cannot stimulate thirst for righteousness if we have lost our own. We cannot be used of God to retard the corruption of sin in the world if our own lives become corrupted by sin. To lose our saltiness is not to lose our salvation, but it is to lose our effectiveness and to become disqualified for service.”³

Jesus says that we are to make an impact on our world, because if we don’t—we’re pretty useless. Are we making an impact? Or are we allowing ourselves to be diluted by the sins of the world? The world needs our impact, an ancient church treatise says, “What the soul is in a body, this the Christians are in the world.”4

II. Being Light (vv. 14-15)

A. Jesus Compares the Disciples to Light (v. 14a)

Just as Jesus compared His disciples to salt, notice here that he compares them to light: “You are the light of the world” (v. 14a). Light is one of Scripture’s most common symbols. God is light (Ps. 18:12; 104:2; 1 Tim. 6:16; 1 John 1:5), Christ is light (Matt 4:16; John 1:7, 9; 8:12; 9:5; 12:46), and God’s people are light (Eph 5:8; 1 Thess 5:5). Now think, what are some uses for light? While there are various uses for it, its chief function is to make one able to see. Again, like with what Jesus says we are the salt of, what does He say we are the light of? We are the “Light of the world.” This is because we are the window through which God’s light enters the world. He chose us to do this very thing. Paul says concerning our conversion, that God “has shone [His light] in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6, emphasis mine). God didn’t give us the gospel to be a hidden secret, but so that the whole world can see His light and transformation in us.

B. A Clear Example of the Impossibility of Hiding Light (v. 14b)

Notice next, that Jesus gives a memorable, visible example of how impossible it is to hide something that is big: “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” You can imagine that can’t you? The picture Jesus is painting is of houses and buildings that stand out on a landscape, shining brilliantly during the night. The point He is making in this discourse on light is this: if you’re truly saved—it’s hard to hide it. If you’re truly loving God and growing in your passion for Him, people are going to notice. You’re going to be like a city set on a hill. Can you really hide a city setting on a hill? Indeed not. Neither can you hide the gospel’s transformation in you, if you truly have that transformation.

C. The Folly of Hiding Light (v. 15)

Finally, Jesus talks about the foolishness of hiding light (after He has established that it is virtually impossible to hide): “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” (v. 15). People have always understood this concept. Candles are put on holders to increase their range. Decades ago, a man would come around your street and light oil lamps in the streets—but he would get on a ladder because the pole was so tall, that way it would have better range. Ceiling fans are also on the ceiling for a purpose. The lamp here that Jesus is talking about was probably a small oil-burning portable with a wick. It would be extremely foolish to light it and then hide it under a bowl; especially since people need the light to see. Jesus’ point is that it is even more foolish for a disciple to hide the light of the gospel. People need the light we possess in us, they need it so that sin can be exposed and salvation can be recieved. Why would we hide it?

You can hide your light by being quiet when you know you should speak. When you know that someone needs to hear the gospel, or when you know God should be defended, but you say nothing, you’re hiding your light. You can hide your light by going along with the crowd. How are you shining God’s light if you’re doing what everyone else is doing? You can also hide your light by simply denying the light. Some other ways you can hide your light is by letting sin dim your light, not explaining your light to others, or ignoring the needs of others. We must not hide our light, because it is what the world needs.

II. The Purpose: The Glory of God (v. 16)

A. The Command (v. 16a)

In a summary statement, Jesus tells His disciples the reason for comparing them to salt and light. He says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others.” Just as men do not hide light under a basket, the disciples were to let God’s light shine brightly before others. Jesus is saying that the light of God must shine through the disciples’ life. They were not to keep this light to themselves.

B. The Purpose (v. 16b)

Finally, Jesus gives the purpose for shining our light, “so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (v. 16b). The purpose for shining their light was to glorify God. We don’t engage in good works so that people we look at us, but so that their attention will be drawn to God. In other words, we shine by becoming invisible. Even everything we do is to be for the glory of God: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31) We make an impact by our deeds to draw attention to God. That’s what really matters.

Conclusion: A Buddhist’s Evaluation

According to Jesus, being anomaly means making an impact in our world, but making an impact and change for God’s glory; for His fame and honor, not for our own. Let us live so fervently for the glory of God that we disappear from the scenes, and our good works done so that people’s attention will be drawn to God. I am reminded, as I study this passage, of a story of a young Buddhist student. He had made a very careful study of Christianity, and particularly of Christ. He studied the history of Christianity, the Scriptures, and the person of Jesus. He talked to a Christian about his studies and he said this: “Your Christ is wonderful, oh, so wonderful; but you Christians, are not like Him.” Without knowing it, that Buddhist pointed out the greatest need of present-day Christianity—more of Christlikeness in those who bear His name. Let us be salt and light for God’s glory, that’s the kind of kingdom people that God wants to make an impact.


1. W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, Matthew: A Shorter Commentary (New York, NY: T & T Clark, 2004), 70.
2. Clearly, this is a comparison by the caring father to his son concerning the sin of adultery (see Prov. 6:29). But by implication, it is a greater biblical principle that applies to all sin in a general sense (Psalm 1:1; 1 Cor. 5:9-11; 2 Cor. 6:14-18; Eph. 5:7-11; 2 Thess. 3:14; James 1:27)
3. John MacArthur, Matthew 1-7/John MacArthur (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1985), 246.
4. The Letter to Diognetus, Cited in Davies and Allison, 71.

You’ve Got Questions: What Does “Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness” Mean (Matt. 5:6)?

You’ve Got Questions: What Does “Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness” Mean (Matt. 5:6)?

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the beginning section is what is known as the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:1-12) and they are a description of true Christian characteristics. In the fourth Beatitude, Jesus says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6).

Jesus is talking in a way that we can relate. “Hunger” and “thirst” represent the necessities of physical life. In the physical realm, we hunger because we lack nutrients and food that our bodies know they need to survive. Food contains the vitamins and minerals necessary for our survival and functioning. So our stomach aches with hunger pains to notify us that we need food. It’s a natural desire. We hunger because we desire; we desire because we lack; we lack because we have not that which we need. It works the same way with thirst. But does Jesus say, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for food and water”? No, He says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” So Jesus’ analogy demonstrates that just as a hunger for food and water are necessary for physical life, so hungering for righteousness is necessary for true spiritual life. Without the righteousness of Christ, you cannot be saved (2 Cor. 5:21). It’s a strong desire, a passionate force inside the soul. It’s not something that just comes and goes—it means a hungering that keeps on until it is satisfied. Unlike Israel’s love for God in Hosea that was just coming and going: “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away” (Hosea 6:4). What do morning clouds do? They go away. What happens to dew? It goes away. It doesn’t remain. Our hungering and thirsting for righteousness will not just come and go, and the way to true happiness, the way to being truly “blessed,” is the way of spiritual hunger and thirst.

Jesus says that we are to hunger and thirst “for righteousness,” and righteousness is twofold here. The goal of hungering and thirsting for righteousness is both hungering and thirsting for salvation, and for sanctification.

For Salvation. First of all, without a hunger/desire for salvation, you cannot be saved. The Scriptures say, “No one understands; no one seeks for God” (Rom. 3:11). Without Christ, we are in a state of spiritual depravity and dead-ness (Eph. 2:1-3). And as sinners, we are naturally bent towards sin and evil. We will always choose evil over good; sin over obedience. It’s not that we are as sinful as we could be, but every faculty of our being is corrupted by sin. So when it comes to the choices we make, we are always going to choose evil. It’s not that sinful man doesn’t do some good, but even that good he does is with wrongful intentions. In any moment of decision, your greatest desire (in that moment) will determine the decision you make.

Let’s imagine that you walk in to McDonald’s for lunch. You realize that you haven’t been eating very healthy lately, so when you look at the menu, you have a desire to get a salad. But you also notice how delicious looking that McDouble is. Your desire to eat that McDouble is now greater than your desire to eat salad, so you order a McDouble. Even if you choose not to eat at all, still your strongest desire in that given moment determines the choice you make (your desire to not eat at all is stronger than choosing a McDouble or a salad). Everything that sinful, unregenerate man does in his rebellion against God, is sin. “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). Since we are so depraved, God in His grace must give us a spiritual appetite for Jesus Christ, the bread of life. No one has ever got up one morning out of bed and said, “Today, I think I am going to become a Christian!” Since man is prone to sin, God must give man spiritual hunger for the salvation that comes from the Lord. That hunger will lead to an acting on that hunger: repentance and faith, which is also by the grace of God. If you have a sincere desire to know God, you need to act on that desire; God gave it to you.

For Sanctification. Not only should we hunger for salvation, but also sanctification. Sanctification is the process by which we become more and more like Jesus Christ. It’s the goal of our Christian lives. We should desire to know God more, to love God more, to be more for God. Peter writes, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity” (2 Peter 3:18). Similarly, Paul says “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15). Do you hunger to be more for Christ?

 

For further reading, please consult: Sermon on the Mount: Those Who Hunger and Thirst 

Sermon on the Mount: Those Who Hunger and Thirst

Sermon on the Mount: Those Who Hunger and Thirst (Matt. 5:6)

You’ve seen the late night commercials. Footage of children in countries like Sudan and Ethiopia who are malnourished and suffering due to severe hunger. According to World Food Programme, when it comes to the world population as a whole, “The vast majority of hungry people (827 million) live in developing countries, where 14.3 percent of the population is undernourished.” And for children, “Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five – 3.1 million children each year.” (1) Hunger is a major problem today, and there are hundreds of organizations that exist to feed those who are hungry throughout our world. Hunger is a result of our broken and depraved world, and we need to support relief for those who are hungry by donating our time and resources, and we should always pray for them. But would you ever think of hunger as being commanded by Jesus? That’s right. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He tells His disciples, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6). Of course, this is a different kind of hunger than the starving state of so many countries in our world. But I wouldn’t dismiss those images of the starving just yet. Because if you’ve ever seen someone who was truly starving, they have a single, all-consuming passion for food and water. Nothing else has the slightest attraction or appeal; nothing else can even get their attention. This is the spiritual hunger and thirst about which Jesus is talking about. Let’s look at this further:

The Text: Matt. 5:6

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

The Meaning of Spiritual Hunger

So far in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount there have been three Beatitudes that have lead up to this point. The first is the recognition of spiritual poverty apart from God (Matt. 5:3), the second is the necessary result of that recognition of lowliness: godly mourning (Matt. 5:4). And then is humility in the way we interact with others (Matt. 5:5). What then, is the meaning of hungering and thirsting for righteousness? What is Jesus telling us about spiritual hunger? Jesus is talking in a way that we can relate. “Hunger” and “thirst” represent the necessities of physical life. In the physical realm, we hunger because we lack nutrients and food that our bodies know they need to survive. Food contains the vitamins and minerals necessary for our survival and functioning. So our stomach aches with hunger pains to notify us that we need food. It’s a natural desire. We hunger because we desire; we desire because we lack; we lack because we have not that which we need. It works the same way with thirst. But does Jesus say, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for food and water”? No, He says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” So Jesus’ analogy demonstrates that just as a hunger for food and water are necessary for physical life, so hungering for righteousness is necessary for true spiritual life. Without the righteousness of Christ, you cannot be saved (2 Cor. 5:21). John MacArthur writes, “This Beatitude speaks of strong desire, of driving pursuit, of a passionate force inside the soul.” (2) Similarly, “This hungering and thirsting after righteousness is not a passing feeling or desire—it means something that keeps on until it is satisfied.” (3) Unlike Israel’s love for God in Hosea that was just coming and going: “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away” (Hosea 6:4). What do morning clouds do? They go away. What happens to dew? It goes away. It doesn’t remain. Our hungering and thirsting for righteousness will not just come and go, and the way to true happiness, the way to being truly “blessed,” is the way of spiritual hunger and thirst.

The Object of Spiritual Hunger

Jesus says that we are to hunger and thirst “for righteousness,” and righteousness is twofold here. The goal of hungering and thirsting for righteousness is both hungering and thirsting for salvation, and for sanctification. For Salvation. First of all, without a hunger/desire for salvation, you cannot be saved. The Scriptures say, “No one understands; no one seeks for God” (Rom. 3:11). Without Christ, we are in a state of spiritual depravity and dead-ness (Eph. 2:1-3). And as sinners, we are naturally bent towards sin and evil. We will always choose evil over good; sin over obedience. It’s not that we are as sinful as we could be, but every faculty of our being is corrupted by sin. So when it comes to the choices we make, we are always going to choose evil. It’s not that sinful man doesn’t do some good, but even that good he does is with wrongful intentions. In any moment of decision, your greatest desire (in that moment) will determine the decision you make. Let’s imagine that you walk in to McDonald’s for lunch. You realize that you haven’t been eating very healthy lately, so when you look at the menu, you have a desire to get a salad. But you also notice how delicious looking that McDouble is. Your desire to eat that McDouble is now greater than your desire to eat salad, so you order a McDouble. Even if you choose not to eat at all, still your strongest desire in that given moment determines the choice you make (your desire to not eat at all is stronger than choosing a McDouble or a salad). Everything that sinful, unregenerate man does in his rebellion against God, is sin. “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). Since we are so depraved, God in His grace must give us a spiritual appetite for Jesus Christ, the bread of life. No one has ever got up one morning out of bed and said, “Today, I think I am going to become a Christian!” Since man is prone to sin, God must give man spiritual hunger for the salvation that comes from the Lord. That hunger will lead to an acting on that hunger: repentance and faith, which is also by the grace of God. If you have a sincere desire to know God, you need to act on that desire; God gave it to you. For Sanctification. Not only should we hunger for salvation, but also sanctification. Sanctification is the process by which we become more and more like Jesus Christ. It’s the goal of our Christian lives. We should desire to know God more, to love God more, to be more for God. Peter writes, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity” (2 Peter 3:18). Similarly, Paul says “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15). Do you hunger to be more for Christ? 

The Result of Spiritual Hunger

Jesus says that those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness. . . shall be satisfied.” God will satisfy our hunger for Him. It is that very satisfaction from God that makes us want more. Think about your favorite food. Why is it your favorite food? Most likely you enjoy that food because of the satisfaction that it brings. You continue eating it because you delight in the satisfaction that it brings. Similarly, what Jesus is saying here is that the more you are satisfied by God the more you will want to be satisfied by God. John Piper has labored more than all to bring this truth out, and he is worth quoting at length:

“The more you know him, the more you want to know him. The more you feast on his fellowship, the hungrier you are for deeper, richer communion. Satisfaction at the deepest levels breeds a holy longing for the time when we will have the very power of God to love God. . . Yes, the more you know him and love him and trust him, the more you long to know him. . . The great old catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” and answers, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Enjoying God is the way to glorify God, because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” (4)

Are we hungering and thirsting for God? Are we being satisfied by Him or by the temporary things of this “world [which] is passing away along with its desires” (1 John 2:17)? Let us cry out with David, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1). Let us continue to be satisfied by God and the things of God and let us cease from dining at the table of the world where there are only worthless scraps.

The Testing of Spiritual Hunger

1. Dissatisfaction with Self

If you are satisfied with yourself, you will not be spiritually hungry. Again, this can be worked out in two ways: with regards to salvation, and with regards to sanctification. In salvation, the man who is satisfied with himself, and his own righteousness will not see the need for God’s. The great Puritan Thomas Watson wrote, “He has most need of righteousness that least wants it.” But the hungering sinner will be dissatisfied with himself and will seek after God.

But in regards to our sanctification, and our lives as Christians—if you are hungering for God, you will always want more. No matter how many Bible studies you go through—no matter how many fine sermons you hear—no matter how many chapters of the Bible you read daily—no matter how many times you serve in the local church—no matter how often you pray . . . You will always want more and more of God and continue to cry out with Paul, “O wretched man that I am” (Rom. 7:24). It’s not that God wont’ satisfy your longing for Him, but you will always be dissatisfied with yourself in the sense that God is the only One you recognize to satisfy you—and you will always want more of Him.

Are you dissatisfied with yourself? Are you wanting more of God? Sounds like to me you are hungering and thirsting for righteousness.

2. Freedom from Dependence on External Things for Satisfaction

Think about this: A hungry man cannot be satisfied by an arrangement of lovely flowers, by great riches, beautiful music, or pleasant conversation. Anyone hungry must have what they truly need to be satisfied. We understand that—but we are fooled by sin’s deception to think that we need more and more of it to be satisfied, when it is not sin that we need—but God and His righteousness. If you’re not free from depending on other things for satisfaction, you might want to let a little of His grace in and change a few things in your heart.

3. Craving for the Word of God

The Word of God is the most basic spiritual food God provides His children. The more you hunger for God, the more you will want to devour Scripture. Do you have a craving for the Word of God? If you’re hungering and thirsting for righteousness—you will for the Word.

4. Pleasantness of the Things of God

Do you find pleasantness in the things of God—or do they turn you away? What about when He disciplines you? Does that bring satisfaction—well it should; it’s assurance that you belong to Him.

5. Making No Conditions

When our spiritual hunger and thirst for righteousness is genuine and sincere—we will make no conditions on finding it—in whatever ways God chooses to dispose it to us. If His righteousness is in the Word of God—we will go to find it there, without making excuses. We will make no excuses or conditions for fulfilling our hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Conclusion

In 1908-09, Sir Ernest Shackleton and three of his friends attempted to travel to the South Pole. They set off with four houses to help carry the load. Within weeks, the horses died, their food had ran out, so they tried to get back to base. Altogether, miraculously, they traveled for 127 days total. Sir Ernest recorded this story in a book called The Heart of the Antarctic, and in it he talks about how much time was spent talking about food—elaborate feasts, gourmet delights, plentiful menus. As they staggered along, suffering from hunger, not knowing whether they would survive, every waking hour was occupied with thoughts of eating.

Well, Sir Shackleton made it back—and as you could imagine, ate like never before. We can understand his obsession with food, when he didn’t have any. Are you like that with spiritual hunger? Is God all you can think about because you are so hungry for Him? Jesus tells us here about a hunger more important than hungering for food—let’s feast on God and His righteousness like we’ve never had it before—and God will keep satisfying us.

Are you hungering for God?


1. World Food Programme, Hunger: Hunger Statistics (www.wfp.org/hunger/stats).
2. John MacArthur, Matthew 1-7/ John MacArthur . (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1985), 177.
3. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Kindle Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: InterVarsity Press, 1959-60; Reprinted 2000), Kindle Locations 1119-1128.
4. John Piper, Five Points (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2013), 7-8.

You’ve Got Questions: What Does “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit” Mean (Matt. 5:3)?

You’ve Got Questions: What Does “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit” Mean (Matt. 5:3)?

Jesus says in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The word “poor” here is from a Greek verb ptochos meaning “to shrink, cower, or cringe,” as beggars often did in that day. Classical Greek used the word to refer to a person reduced to total destitution, who crouched in a corner begging. As he held our one hand for alms he often hid his face with the other hand, because he was ashamed of being recognized. The term did not mean simply poor, but begging poor. Jesus is speaking here of spiritual poverty. To be poor in spirit is to recognize one’s spiritual poverty apart from God.

The Scriptures have much to say about our spiritual poorness apart from God. Just to name a few, Romans says that we are haters of God (Rom. 1:30), not seeking Him or doing any good (Rom. 3:11). The prophet Ezekiel says that the “soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezek. 18:20, KJV). If that’s the case (Rom. 6:23), then who has sinned? “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Ephesians probably describes our depravity with the most vivid picture: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). Further, Paul describes there that we walked with the world, followed Satan, and were “sons of disobedience” (2:2); that we lived in the passions of our sinful flesh, and were “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (2:3). Similarly in Colossians, we were “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (Col. 1:21). This is only a brief examination of our spiritual poverty apart from God, and being “poor in spirit” is to see oneself as one really is: lost, hopeless, helpless. Apart from Jesus Christ, every person is spiritually destitute, no matter what his education, wealth, social status, accomplishments, or spiritual knowledge.

That is the point of the first Beatitude. The poor in spirit are those who recognize their spiritual poverty and their complete dependence on God. They perceive that there are no saving resources in themselves and that they can only beg for mercy and grace. They know they have no spiritual merit, and they know they can earn no spiritual reward.

Similarly, Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-gather to “some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9). Jesus says that “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (Luke 18:10-13). The Pharisee was listing his spiritual accomplishments, and considered himself to be self-righteous, while the tax-collector would not even lift his eyes to heaven! The Pharisee was proud in spirit; the tax-collector was poor in spirit.

Who are you like most in this story? The proud, self-reliant Pharisee or the humble tax-collector?

For further reading, please consult Sermon on the Mount: The Poor in Spirit

Sermon on the Mount: The Poor in Spirit

Sermon on the Mount: The Poor in Spirit (Matt. 5:3)

What’s your idea of happiness? What things make you the most happy? For you it might be time with family, being successful at work, watching Captain America with your girlfriend, or playing football with your buddies. Because we’re all different, there are different things that make us happy. For me, I am happy when I get new books, have good theological discussions, or write college papers on systematic theology (I know, I am a nerd).

But let me just say from the beginning: Jesus’ idea of happiness is a lot farther from ours than we’d like to think. The beginning of the Sermon on the Mount is a section known as the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:2-12). In them, Jesus describes true happiness on His terms. He presents the possibility of people being genuinely happy, but the conditions and their corresponding blessings do not seem to match. He says that the humble will be saved, the sad will be comforted, the gentle will inherit the earth, and the like. By normal human standards, things such as these are not the stuff of which happiness is made. “The world says, “Happy are the rich, the noble, the successful, the macho, the glamorous, the popular, the famous, the aggressive”—John MacArthur (1). But the message from Jesus is just the opposite because His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). And so the first description of true happiness in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is all about humility.

The Text: Matt. 5:1-3

“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.”

The Meaning of Poor in Spirit

The word “poor” here is from a Greek verb ptochos meaning “to shrink, cower, or cringe,” as beggars often did in that day. Classical Greek used the word to refer to a person reduced to total destitution, who crouched in a corner begging. As he held our one hand for alms he often hid his face with the other hand, because he was ashamed of being recognized. The term did not mean simply poor, but begging poor. Jesus is speaking here of spiritual poverty. To be poor in spirit is to recognize one’s spiritual poverty apart from God.

What is Our Spiritual Poverty Apart From God?

The Scriptures have much to say about our spiritual poorness apart from God. Just to name a few, Romans says that we are haters of God (Rom. 1:30), not seeking Him or doing any good (Rom. 3:11). The prophet Ezekiel says that the “soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezek. 18:20, KJV). If that’s the case (Rom. 6:23), then who has sinned? “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Ephesians probably describes our depravity with the most vivid picture: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). Further, Paul describes there that we walked with the world, followed Satan, and were “sons of disobedience” (2:2); that we lived in the passions of our sinful flesh, and were “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (2:3). Similarly in Colossians, we were “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (Col. 1:21). This is only a brief examination of our spiritual poverty apart from God, and being “poor in spirit” is to see oneself as one really is: lost, hopeless, helpless. Apart from Jesus Christ, every person is spiritually destitute, no matter what his education, wealth, social status, accomplishments, or spiritual knowledge.

That is the point of the first Beatitude. The poor in spirit are those who recognize their spiritual poverty and their complete dependence on God. They perceive that there are no saving resources in themselves and that they can only beg for mercy and grace. They know they have no spiritual merit, and they know they can earn no spiritual reward.

Proud or Poor?

Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-gather to “some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9). Jesus says that “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (Luke 18:10-13). The Pharisee was listing his spiritual accomplishments, and considered himself to be self-righteous, while the tax-collector would not even lift his eyes to heaven! The Pharisee was proud in spirit; the tax-collector was poor in spirit.

Who are you like most in this story? The proud, self-reliant Pharisee or the humble tax-collector?

Why is Poor in Spirit First?

Why do you suppose that humility is first in the Beatitudes? The Beatitudes are not haphazardly presented. Jesus didn’t just say what Christian characteristics He could remember like “Oh yes, and being pure in heart is also important.” They are in obvious order. Each one suggests the next, and leads to the next. That is why poor in spirit/humility is first. It is the basic element in becoming a Christian. Until a soul is humbled, until we truly realize who we are without Christ, we will not recognize our need for Christ. “The door into His kingdom is low, and no one who stands tall will ever go through it”—John MacArthur (2). Being poor in spirit is the first Beatitude because humility must precede everything else. No one can receive the kingdom until he recognizes that he is unworthy of the kingdom. James 4:6 says, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Where self is exalted, Christ cannot be. Where self is king, Christ cannot be. Until the proud in spirit become the “poor in spirit,” they cannot receive the King or the kingdom.

How to Achieve Being Poor in Spirit

How then, do we become poor in spirit? First of all (with respect to salvation), it cannot start with us. It isn’t something we can accomplish in our own power. We are already down; humility simply recognizes this truth. The fulfillment of that recognition depends on God’s saving work at conversion. We are so corrupted by sin that we will never recognize our lowliness and depravity apart from the grace of God. That is why salvation “depends not on human will or exertion (physical or mental effort), but on God, who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16). Humility (being poor in spirit) is not a necessary human work to make us worthy, but a necessary divine work to make us see that we are unworthy and cannot change our condition without God.

But with respect to our Christian lives, we need to strive to attain humility (again, this too is not apart from the grace of God):

The first step in experiencing humility is to turn our eyes off ourselves and look to God. When we study God’s Word, seek His face in prayer, and sincerely desire to be near Him and please Him, we move toward being “poor in spirit.” It is the vision of a holy God in all His greatness, splendor, majesty, and perfection that allows us to see ourselves as sinners by contrast. 

Second, we must starve the flesh by removing the things on which it feeds. You’ve probably heard it said before, “What you feed will live; what you starve will die.” And that is what we must do with our flesh. “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24).

Third, we must continually ask God for it. With David we should pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). Also, as with every good thing, God is more than willing to give than we are to ask for it, and He stands ready to give it.

The Result of Being Poor in Spirit

What does Jesus say is the result of those who are poor in spirit? “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Those who come to the King in this humility inherit His kingdom. Those who come to the Lord with broken hearts do not leave with broken hearts: “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). In giving up their own kingdom, the poor in spirit inherit God’s. Are you poor in spirit? If not, why not?


1. John MacArthur, Matthew 1-7/ John MacArthur (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1985), 145.
2. John MacArthur, Matthew 1-7/ John MacArthur . (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1985), 148.

You’ve Got Questions: What Does “Blessed Are the Meek” Mean (Matt. 5:5)?

You’ve Got Questions: What Does “Blessed Are the Meek” Mean (Matt. 5:5)?

Before answering this question, it’s important to see the obvious logical connection between these different Beatitudes. Clearly, each one follows on from what has gone before. Also, the Beatitudes, as they proceed, become increasingly difficult. In the first Beatitude (Matt. 5:3), we are asked to recognize our spiritual poverty apart from God. When we truly realize our spiritual poorness apart from God, we inevitably become “poor in spirit.” That in turn leads to the second state in which, realizing our own sinfulness and our own true nature, realizing that we are so helpless because of the indwelling sin within us, we become godly mourners (Mat. 5:4). If these things are present, then it follows that we would reach a point at which we become concerned about other people. That’s where meekness comes in. A man can never be meek unless he is poor in spirit. A man can never be a meek unless he has seen himself as a vile sinner.

What then, is the meaning of meek? The Greek word for meek here is praus, which means to be mild, or gentle. The same Greek term is used of Jesus’ triumphal entry when Matthew quotes Zechariah 9:9, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble (praus), and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden” (Matt. 21:5). Meekness is very similar to “poor in spirit,” but it is not exactly the same thing. Meekness is essentially a true view of oneself, expressing itself in attitude and conduct with respect to others. It is my attitude towards myself, and it is an expression of that in my relationship to others. Meekness does not weakness. It doesn’t mean laziness. Meekness does not mean niceness. Meekness is compatible with great strength and it is compatible with great authority and power (as we will see). When a man truly sees himself for what he is, no one can say anything about him that is too bad. “He that is down needs fear no fall”—John Bunyan. When we are meek, there will a be a complete absence of the spirit of retaliation, having our own back or seeing that the other person “pays for it.”

Who is this meek person? What is he like? Since this is a hard word to define, perhaps it is best to see examples of meekness to better understand what it means:

Abraham. After God had called Abraham from Ur of the Chaldeans to the Promised Land and had made the marvelous unconditional covenant with him, a dispute about grazing lands arose between the servants of Abraham and those of his nephew Lot. All of the land of Canaan had been promised to Abraham. He was God’s chosen man and the Father of God’s chosen people. Lot, on the other hand, was essentially a “hanger-on,” an in-law who was largely dependent on Abraham for his welfare and safety. Yet, as the story reads, Abraham willingly let Lot take whatever land he wanted, thus giving up his rights for the sake of his nephew, for the sake of harmony between their households. “Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left” (Genesis 13:8-9). That is a great example of meekness.

Joseph. You know the story. he was abused by his jealous brothers and eventually sold into slavery. Soon he came to be second only to Pharaoh in Egypt and he was in a position to take sever vengeance on his brothers. When they came to Egypt asking for grain for their starving families, Joseph could easily have refused, and he could have even put his brothers into more severe slavery than into which they had sold him! Yet he had only forgiveness and love for them. Speaking to his brothers, “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors” (Genesis 45:5-7). Joseph understood that it was God’s place to judge and his to forgive and help. His is a great example of true meekness.

David. He was chosen by God and anointed by Samuel to replace Saul as Israel’s king. But when, in the cave of Engedi, he had the opportunity to take Saul’s life, as Saul often had tried to take his, David refused to do so. “So David persuaded his men with these words and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave and went on his way” (1 Sam. 24:7). David presents before us a great example of meekness.

Jesus. He created this world, and we corrupted it with our sin. Christ is God and that means He is more powerful than we can imagine and more wise than we can imagine. We are dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1), and we will pay the price for our sins (Rom. 6:23), if nothing is done about God’s wrath against us and our terrible condition apart from Him. Christ became a man, going through our struggles, weaknesses and difficulties. Eventually He died a humiliating death that we might live life eternal. Paul expresses this truth: “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8). Christ has demonstrated the greatest example of meekness. (For further study of Christ’s meekness, see Christ’s Supreme Example of Humility)

For further reading, please consult Sermon on the Mount: The Meek

Sermon on the Mount: The Meek

Sermon on the Mount: The Meek (Matt. 5:5)

“The Christian is altogether different from the world. He is a new man, a new creation; he belongs to an entirely different kingdom. And not only is the world unlike him; it cannot possibly understand him.”—D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1)

In our consideration of the Beatitudes, we have already seen that Jesus turns the world’s ideas upside down. The world thinks in terms of strength, power, of ability, self-assurance and aggressiveness. But Jesus says just the opposite in the third Beatitude: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). Think about what a shock this statement was to the Jews of Jesus’ day. They had ideas of the kingdom which were not only materialistic but military also, and to them the Messiah was the One who was going to lead them to victory. So they were thinking in terms of conquest and fighting in a material sense, and immediately Christ dismisses all that.

The Text

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5).

The Meaning of Meekness

It’s important to see the obvious logical connection between these different Beatitudes. Clearly, each one follows on from what has gone before. Also, the Beatitudes, as they proceed, become increasingly difficult. In the first Beatitude (Matt. 5:3), we are asked to recognize our spiritual poverty apart from God. When we truly realize our spiritual poorness apart from God, we inevitably become “poor in spirit.” That in turn leads to the second state in which, realizing our own sinfulness and our own true nature, realizing that we are so helpless because of the indwelling sin within us, we become godly mourners (Mat. 5:4). If these things are present, then it follows that we would reach a point at which we become concerned about other people. That’s where meekness comes in. A man can never be meek unless he is poor in spirit. A man can never be a meek unless he has seen himself as a vile sinner.

What then, is the meaning of meek? The Greek word for meek here is praus, which means to be mild, or gentle. The same Greek term is used of Jesus’ triumphal entry when Matthew quotes Zechariah 9:9, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble (praus), and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden” (Matt. 21:5). Meekness is very similar to “poor in spirit,” but it is not exactly the same thing. Meekness is essentially a true view of oneself, expressing itself in attitude and conduct with respect to others. It is my attitude towards myself, and it is an expression of that in my relationship to others. Meekness does not weakness. It doesn’t mean laziness. Meekness does not mean niceness. Meekness is compatible with great strength and it is compatible with great authority and power (as we will see). When a man truly sees himself for what he is, no one can say anything about him that is too bad. “He that is down needs fear no fall”—John Bunyan. When we are meek, there will be a complete absence of the spirit of retaliation, having our own back or seeing that the other person “pays for it.”

The Manifestation of Meekness

Who is this meek person? What is he like? Since this is a hard word to define, perhaps it is best to see examples of meekness to better understand what it means.

Cooperate with me on this. I am going to present you with various scenarios. Read them and imagine yourself as the person described in them. Then think about what you would do in that situation:

1. You own a lot of land. You have a distant in-law who depends on you for their welfare and their safety. They have all they need from your rightful land, but they are not content with it. What would you do? 

The same thing happened to Abraham. After God had called Abraham from Ur of the Chaldeans to the Promised Land and had made the marvelous unconditional covenant with him, a dispute about grazing lands arose between the servants of Abraham and those of his nephew Lot. All of the land of Canaan had been promised to Abraham. He was God’s chosen man and the Father of God’s chosen people. Lot, on the other hand, was essentially a “hanger-on,” an in-law who was largely dependent on Abraham for his welfare and safety. Yet, as the story reads, Abraham willingly let Lot take whatever land he wanted, thus giving up his rights for the sake of his nephew, for the sake of harmony between their households. “Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left” (Genesis 13:8-9). That is a great example of meekness. 

2. The world is without food and is in a great famine. Before the famine, your own family sold you into brutal slavery. Soon you become the king of the only nation with food. Your family comes to you in need, what would you do?

The same thing happened to Joseph. You know the story. he was abused by his jealous brothers and eventually sold into slavery. Soon he came to be second only to Pharaoh in Egypt and he was in a position to take sever vengeance on his brothers. When they came to Egypt asking for grain for their starving families, Joseph could easily have refused, and he could have even put his brothers into more severe slavery than into which they had sold him! Yet he had only forgiveness and love for them. Speaking to his brothers, “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors” (Genesis 45:5-7). Joseph understood that it was God’s place to judge and his to forgive and help. His is a great example of true meekness. 

3. If someone had tried to kill you multiple times, and they were right “underneath your nose,” and you had the ability to kill them, what would you do?

The same thing happened to David. He was chosen by God and anointed by Samuel to replace Saul as Israel’s king. But when, in the cave of Engedi, he had the opportunity to take Saul’s life, as Saul often had tried to take his, David refused to do so. “So David persuaded his men with these words and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave and went on his way” (1 Sam. 24:7). David presents before us a great example of meekness. 

4. You are the founder of a great company. You know more than your employees, you make more than your employees, you are way more powerful than your employees. They mess up your company and destroy everything up and the only way they will live is if you become an employee, give all your power away, and then die a humiliating death. Would you do it?

Similarly, Jesus experienced the same thing. He created this world, and we corrupted it with our sin. Christ is God and that means He is more powerful than we can imagine and more wise than we can imagine. We are dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1), and we will pay the price for our sins (Rom. 6:23), if nothing is done about God’s wrath against us and our terrible condition apart from Him. Christ became a man, going through our struggles, weaknesses and difficulties. Eventually He died a humiliating death that we might live life eternal. Paul expresses this truth: “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8). Christ has demonstrated the greatest example of meekness. (For further study of Christ’s meekness, see Christ’s Supreme Example of Humility)

The Result of Meekness

Jesus says that those who are meek “shall inherit the earth.” The person who is meek already inherits the earth in this way: A man who is truly meek is a man who is always satisfied, he is a man who is already content. The person who is not satisfied never has enough, he always wants more. On the other hand the satisfied person is happy to enjoy all things. He possess all things and yet those things do not possess him. “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything” (2 Cor. 6:10). But the phrase “shall inherit the earth” also has a very future implication. The meek person also knows that everything is in the hands of God—his rights, his cause, his entire future. One day God will completely reclaim His earthly domain, and those who have become His children through faith in His Son will rule that domain with Him. “If we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us” (2 Tim. 2:12). We may not always have earthly blessings, but we have the promise of one day ruling and reigning with Christ.

The Necessity of Meekness

What then, does the Bible say about the necessity of meekness?

It is commanded. “Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, who do his just commands; seek righteousness; seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the LORD” (Zeph. 2:3). Similarly, James writes to the believers of the Jerusalem church, “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). Those who do not have a meek/humble spirit are not able even to listen rightly to God’s Word, much less obey it.

Essential for church unity. Meekness is necessary for living in church unity: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:1-2). Paul commands the Ephesians to live in a way that is worthy of their great calling. How are they to do that? “With all humility and gentleness.” Those are the first characteristics mentioned in Paul’s list of behaviors necessary to live out church unity.

For effective witnessing. Meekness is necessary for witnessing: “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Peter tells the believers to be prepared to defend the faith and to be verbal about their faith. . .”yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

Direct fruit of the Spirit. Meekness is necessary evidence of walking in the power of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Gal. 5:22-23).

Conclusion

Are we living in true meekness? Let us face this Sermon on the Mount with all honesty, let us meditate on this statement about being meek; let us look at the examples; above all let us look at Jesus Christ Himself. Let us be finished with ourselves so that He who has bought us at a great price may come in and possess us wholly.


1. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the MountKindle Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: InterVarsity Press, 1959-60; Reprinted 2000), Kindle Locations 866-867.

 

You’ve Got Questions: What Does “Blessed Are Those Who Mourn” Mean (Matt. 5:4)?

You’ve Got Questions: What Does “Blessed Are Those Who Mourn” Mean (Matt. 5:4)?

While God cares about all legitimate mourning, Jesus is speaking here about godly sorrow, godly mourning, mourning that only those who sincerely desire to belong to Him or who already belong to Him can experience.

Paul speaks of this sorrow in 2 Corinthians 7, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you” (vv. 10-11). Paul says here that godly sorrow actually leads to repentance. If you are sorry for your sin, then you will repent and turn away from it. But repentance is not just a turning away from sin; it is a turning to as well. . . a turning to God. That’s why Paul says that it “leads to salvation without regret” (v. 10). But sorrow because you “couldn’t” sin is the “worldly grief [that leads to] produces death.” If you are experiencing that kind of sorrow, if truths like “Being a believer is not a license to sin” turns you off, then you are having improper mourning.

Now the first Beatitude, makes it clear that entrance into the “kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3) begins with being “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3), that is, you recognize your total spiritual bankruptcy and come to Christ empty-handed, pleading for God’s grace and mercy. Without that recognition of spiritual poverty, you cannot be saved. So if we are “poor in spirit,” then it follows that we would also become “those who mourn.”

It’s important to note, however, that blessedness or happiness does not come in the mourning itself (“Blessed are those who mourn. . .”). But that blessedness comes with what God does in response to it, with the forgiveness that He brings. When you finally recognize your sin and mourn over it and get it confessed to God, you can identify with David in Psalm 32, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (vv. 1-2). But why does David say that those people are blessed? How did they become blessed? He answers that question in vv. 3-5, “For when I kept silent [about my sin], my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long [he experienced sorrow]. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” God forgives those who confess their sins to Him (1 John 1:9) and brings eternal comfort to them, and that’s where the blessedness of godly mourning comes from: “they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4).

The troubles and sins of the world are just too heavy to continue carrying. “Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag, and smile, smile, smile.” But Jesus isn’t telling us to do that. He’s not telling us to fake it. He says, “Confess your sins, and mourn, mourn, mourn.” Because until sin is confessed, forgiven and removed, you cannot experience true happiness.

There is an interesting passage of Scripture about this reality. It’s found in James 4, and it is strange because the same passage that talks about forsaking sins and crying for them is the same passage that talks about being joyful and exalted. “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:8-10). James says here that there is a great need in the church to cry instead of laugh. He doesn’t mean that Christians are to be sobbing depressive Eeyores (off Winnie the Pooh). But apparently these believers were treating sin very casually when the proper reaction to sin is “mourning. . . weep[ing]. . and gloom” (v. 9).

God brings eternal comfort to the one who mourns over sin and repents. That’s the meaning of “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

For further reading, please consult Sermon on the Mount: Those Who Mourn