Category: Casual Commentary

April 14, 2021

The Life of Faith 6:19 – 7:12
True Treasure vv. 19-21

The issue here is sustainability. As we live our lives we gather wealth, either earthly or heavenly. Earthly treasure is fraught with risk and always ends in total loss. Heavenly treasure, on the other hand, lasts forever. The case is not either/or but the tricky balancing act of both/and. Money is not the problem. It’s the love of it that is toxic. So how does one ¬†stick-handle through the stresses and temptations of early wealth? How to turn it to the advantage of heaven?

We’ll see in a moment that the key (v. 22) is “singleness” of vision. That is we’re to see all treasure on earth as expendable for the Kingdom of Heaven. “My money — Your money” won’t do. There should be no guilt, however, in ownership of things like clothing, food, and housing. But, if there is lack of contentment with these provisions, we flirt with covetousness, which is the only sin, other than pride, which is essentially spiritual. if our worldview sees all that we are, and all that we own, as the Lord’s, we are in synch with heaven. If, on the other hand, we see our possessions and wealth as our security, we are out of synch. Jesus would have us know that our ultimate, sustainable security is in the Lord. Our “stuff” merely is food for moths, rust, and thieves. The only thing we can take with us when we die is what we give away.

The Bible is strong on this. Far better to be “rich in good works” (1 Tim. 6:18), “rich in faith” (Ja. 2″5), and shareholders in the “unsearchable riches of Christ and his glory” (Ep. 3:8, 16), than to be rich in this world’s goods. “Laying up treasure in heaven” is the wise decision. It’s the only sustainable treasure. So if we’re going to “treasure our treasure” we had better treasure the heavenly.

How then does one lay up treasure in heaven? King Solomon gives us a starting point: “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will reward them for what they have done” (Pr. 19:17). Prioritize the poor, especially the orphan and the widow (Ps. 68:5). Compassion and care for the marginalized is a sure sign of the Spirit at work. It’s called “justice seeking”. And, in combination with “righteousness seeking”, it hits the sweet-spot of God’s Heart. “I am The Lord who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight” (Je. 9:24).

April 7, 2021

Alms, Prayer, & Fasting 6:1-18
Fasting vv. 16-18

There is only one fast declared in the Old Testament. On the Day of Atonement the Israelites were to fast (Le. 16:29, 31; 23:27-32; Nu. 29:7), meaning abstinence from food and drink for the twenty-four hour period from sunset to sunset. Later in Jewish history other fasts were added, mainly marking significant passages or disasters. This is why fasting expresses either/or grief and penitence.

Sometimes fasting was personal — a time of “afflicting the soul”, and often it indicated pious self-discipline (Pharisees fasted every Monday and Thursday). Fasting’s achilles heel, however, was public display.

This is what Jesus warns his disciples against. Just as was the case with almsgiving and prayer, Jesus saw both the value and the danger. Self-satisfaction, showing off, and phone contrition very easily trumped the essential spiritual quality of genuine fasting. Too easily we humans can yield to the “pride that apes humility”.

So, says Jesus, turn human display and look solely to heaven. Let God see your good work. Don’t give anyone else even a hint of what you’re up to. The Lord will “give back” (“reward”) to those who give to him. But don’t think for a minute that fasting guarantees a heavenly hearing. The Old Testament prophets made it very clear (See Is. 58:5-12) that fasting provided no smoke screen for unjust/unrighteous behavior.

March 31, 2021

Alms, Prayer, & Fasting 6:1-18

The Quid pro Quo of Forgiveness vv. 14 & 15

I’ve already referenced these verses commenting on v. 12. But to emphasize the point, take a look at Jesus’ hyperbolic parable of the unmerciful servant in ch. 18:23-35.

Here’s a guy who owes the king ten thousand (!!) bags of gold. The king wants to settle accounts, but his servant can’t repay. Under threat of being sold into slavery he throws himself on the king’s mercy and the king cancels the debt. Then, even as he’s leaving the king’s presence, he sees a fellow servant who owes him a mere hundred silver coins. He grabs him, chokes him, and demands payment. The fellow who has just been forgiven a humungous debt throws the poor wretch into debtors’ prison. The other servants report this incident to the king. And the king, in total outrage, sends the unmerciful fellow to prison and torture.

Jesus looks his audience in the eye and says, “This is how my Heavenly Father will treat each of your unless you forgive your brother and sister from your heart.” Whoa! Where do I sign?

March 24, 2021

Alms, Prayer, & Fasting 6:1-18

Temptation and The Evil One v. 13

Let’s be clear right off the top. God never entices us to do evil. Biblically and historically (until about the 17th century) “tempt” meant “test”. In the Old Testament scriptures we see God testing men and (a non-starter) men testing God. A test was meant to bring out the best (or reveal the evil if there was no best). The temptation Jesus was talking about was probably the enticement to deny God in response to persecution. If we were to paraphrase we might pray, “Lord, keep us from the rack.”

The nefarious designer/operator of the rack is none other than “the evil one”. Satan, the “adversary”, is hard at work “seeking to kill and destroy”. Jesus sees us as sheep fully vulnerable to the ravages of this predator. We need divine protection. Jesus says, “Pray for it.” Later, Jesus’ disciple John reminds us that sometimes we need protection from ourselves — “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 Jo. 2:16) are often quite capable of seeing us self-destruct. So one way or the other — form the outside or the inside — we are conscious of our weakness. In that critical self-awareness our soul cries for help. Only the divine sailor can keep our ship afloat in threatening seas.