Attitude of The Heart

The great commandment in the law, as described by Jesus, is to love God with all your heart, mind and strength. He then adds that there is a second commandment that goes with this one, which is to love your neighbour as yourself.

Attitude of The Heart
Attitude of The Heart

The foundation on which both of these commandments are built is love, and indeed all of the commandments of God were based upon love, either love for God or love for our fellow man.

So we see that if we are to emulate Jesus Christ and be transformed into His image, we must learn to love as God loves us. To do this we need to develop love as the base attitude of the heart and so be guided by love as we live out the love of God. Continue reading “Attitude of The Heart”

Four Reasons Why Cleaning Up Your Act is Not About Looking Good

(Luke 11:37-41)

Do clothes really make the man? Is cleanliness next to godliness? There are some people, even industries today that would have us believe so. But is there any truth in such thinking? Jesus certainly didn’t think so as seen in this scripture and here are four reasons why such thinking is wrong.

Continue reading “Four Reasons Why Cleaning Up Your Act is Not About Looking Good”

Out of the Abundance of the Heart

(Luke 6:43-45)

A while ago I heard this story about a frog and a scorpion that illustrates this teaching rather well. It went something like this.

A frog and a scorpion stood on the bank of a river and wanted to get to the other side. The scorpion could not swim and so he asked the frog to let him ride on his back. The frog said no because he knew the scorpion would sting him and kill him. But the scorpion promised not to sting him, and besides if he did they would both drown and die.

The frog thought this made sense and so he relented. The scorpion climbed on the back of the frog and they set off across the river. But as they reached the halfway point the scorpion stung the frog. The frog in pain and in his dying breath said, “Why did you sting me when you promised not to and now we will both die?” The scorpion replied, “I had to do it because I am a scorpion.”

No Bad Tree Bears Good Fruit

The moral of the story above is that the scorpion did what he did because it is the heart of the scorpion to sting.

Jesus taught that no good tree bears evil fruit and no bad tree bears good fruit. He also said that every tree is known by its fruit. In this he says that you will know a person by their fruit too. It is the fruit of a tree and likewise the fruit of a person that will tell you whether they are good or evil.

What is the Fruit of a Person?

The scorpion above did evil because he was evil.

It is the same with people. An evil person will always do evil in the same way that the scorpion did evil.

The final scripture in this section says, “…out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Verse 45) Whatever is in the heart of a person will determine their thoughts, actions and the words from their mouth. If a person has evil intentions in their heart, then that is hat will come out of them.

The words, actions, deeds and behaviours are the fruit of a person. As a fruit tree produces fruit so too a person produces actions and works. And similarly as a fruit tree may bear good or bad fruit depending on whether it is a good or bad tree, then so too a person will do good or evil dependant upon the desires of their heart.

How Does This Help Us?

Because the Lord has instructed us that we will know a person by their fruit, we can watch a person over a period of time and assess whether they are trustworthy or not. By listening to their words and watching what they do in many situations we can assess reasonably accurately what is in the heart of a person.

Some people will do anything to gain an advantage over others. Some will operate on the basis of “what’s in it for me.” Some will be helpful and offer support and assistance to others in time of need.

Every person will show the kind of person they are in their heart through what they say and do. And thus we can learn who can be trusted and who cannot, who to believe and who to ignore, who to listen to and who we should steer clear of.

Some will try to gain advantage with words that sound good, but watch them and their true hearts desire will be evident. Just as the scorpion could not change his evil behaviour but hid it under a lie for a while, so too evil people will hide under lies until their true nature is revealed for they cannot hide it forever.

(Picture sourced from stock.xchng http://www.sxc.hu/ taken by Neil Vannett)

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Cleanse the Inside of the Cup First

(Matthew 23:25-26)

The Pharisees were very concerned about position. They wanted to look good to men. They wanted the praise of men rather than the praise of God. But Jesus taught that it is not what is on the outside that matters but what is on the inside. That is the essence of this teaching to cleanse the inside of the cup first so that the outside would be clean too.

When you think about a cup, if it has been used you will always wash it out before re-using it. And when you wash it your focus will be more on the inside of the cup than outside, for it is the inside that will hold your drink. You do not want your drink contaminated by grime so you will always focus a greater attention on cleaning the inside first. Even if the outside were unable to be properly cleaned, you could always use a spoon or a straw to eat or drink the contents, but the most important thing is that the inside is clean first.

In this analogy Jesus uses the cup as a representation of men, specifically the Pharisees. His beef with them is that they will go to great lengths to clean up the outside but spend little or no effort on the inside. Back in Matthew 23:5 he said, “They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long.” They focussed on wearing the cloaks and clothes of their office as priests so that they would look “righteous.” They wanted people to look at them and say, “Look at him in those clothes. He must be a righteous man of God.” But contrary to a common saying, clothes do NOT maketh the man. Jesus did not go about in robes that made him stand out from the crowd. He did not were the clothes, cloaks and garments of the clergy. He just wore the same kind of clothes that the rest of the people wore.

In Jesus it does not matter what you wear or what you look like on the outside. The focus of the New Covenant is not about making us look good, it’s about training us how to be good. The New Covenant and the teachings of Jesus are aimed at transforming us into his image. They are meant to bring us to maturity in Christ in our spirit, not in the flesh. Jesus said, “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (John 6:63) If we are to have our spirit changed and if we are to receive life, then it is our inside that must be transformed. It is our spirit that must be cleansed.

The Pharisees were focussed on making a good show in the flesh. They were trying to look good on the outside. Paul also upbraided those who did such things saying, “It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that would compel you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who receive circumcision do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may glory in your flesh.” (Galatians 6:12-13) There were some in the early church insisting on converts being circumcised according to the law. But Paul opposed them and repelled such actions for circumcision is not necessary under the New Covenant. As he said, they were doing this so they could glory in the flesh.

This is exactly what Jesus was saying too. They were trying to cleanse the outside without first cleansing the inside. It does not matter if a person is wearing the cloth of the clergy or is circumcised. These things do not make you any holier. It is only by focussing on the inside and being set free from sin that you can come to the Lord. It is only by accepting Jesus as Saviour and learning his teachings that we may be cleansed from sin and set free from law. Then our spirits will be changed and this will work from the inside out. We will be cleansed within which will cleanse the outside as well.

Out of the Abundance of the Heart the Mouth Speaks

(Matthew 12:33-37)

Jesus makes an interesting point in this section, and it is rather at odds with some modern thinking. Here he says, “Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit.” (Vs. 33) The point he is making is that people are either good or bad and you will know them by what they do.

Whatever comes out of a person defines who they are. As he said elsewhere, “…not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” (Matthew 15:11) In this case he was using the traditions of the Pharisees concerning the washing of hands before eating. We know there are hygiene issues today, but the Pharisees were teaching this as a doctrine and making it of greater importance than the law of God. Jesus
showed their folly and error and in his teaching made the above point. What goes into the mouth is food and it goes to the stomach and passes on. But what comes out of the mouth are the thoughts of men expressed as words and if
these are evil, that is what defiles the man. Eating with unclean hands might make you unwell, but speaking evil will cost you your life into eternity.

The words we speak and what we do are controlled by our thoughts and the passions of our flesh. These are the fruits of our minds. Thus a person who does evil bears evil fruits and a person who does good bears good fruit in the
words, deeds and behaviour. The point Jesus was making is that it is not possible for an evil person to bear good fruit and vice versa. He stated as much in the section about being aware of wolves in sheep’s clothing. (Matthew 7:15-20) In that passage Jesus also made the point that, “You will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:20) It is by this method we are to test for false teachers and prophets.

So if the abundance of the heart of a person is fundamentally evil, that is what will come out of them in words, deeds and behaviour. They may be able to act for a time and masquerade as being good, but in time the truth will come
out and they will be seen for what they truly are.

This position is different to much modern thinking. Today we see teachings from eastern religions about the “Yin and Yang.” This teaching says that in everything good there is some evil and in everything evil there is some good.
That is not what Jesus taught. Jesus shows that we are either one or the other. There are no halfway or part way positions. “Either make the tree good and it’s fruit goof or make the tree bad and its fruit bad.” (Vs. 33) Yin and Yang teachings are positions of compromise, but the word of God is not compromised.

If we accept compromise, how much should we accept before we are totally compromised? Jesus taught about this matter too saying, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but
if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23) What he was saying here is that if we take in evil and accept it into our thinking we will be compromised. And if the light of knowledge in us is compromised by some darkness of un-truth or lies, how dark is our understanding and where will it end? The answer is to reject all evil and not seek out the darkness but to seek the knowledge of the truth that comes from Jesus Christ and God alone.

There is a fearful prospect of judgment in this section too, for Jesus shows we will render account for every careless word we utter. If such is the case we must learn to bite our tongues and mind what we say. As James wrote, “Let
every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19) Good advice if we are to avoid this judgment of all that we say.

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Who was John the Baptist?

(Matthew 11:7-15)

Jesus described John the Baptist saying, “…among those born of women there has risen no-one greater than John the Baptist.” (Vs. 11) This is high praise indeed coming from the Son of God, especially when we consider what John must have appeared like to the common man.

John the Baptist lived in the wilderness and not in the towns or cities. He wore rough clothes made of camel hair and he ate nothing but locusts and wild honey and drank only water. A sparse and rather unusual diet indeed. Had he lived today he would have been called an eccentric, or possibly a nutter given what his appearance looked like and his way of life. And yet Jesus said of this rather rough and wild looking man that there was no-one greater than he amongst all of mankind.

In spite of his obvious eccentricities John the Baptist had a message that he preached and that message was from God. He taught the people about the ways of repentance and to prepare themselves for the coming of the Lord. And the people went out into the wilderness to hear what he had to say and to be baptised for repentance in the Jordan. The people recognised that the power of God was with John and so they went out of their way to go to him and hear the words of God. Even the Pharisees came to him to hear and be baptised, and John showed up their hypocrisy as Jesus later did too.

The message of John the Baptist about repentance is as important today as it was then. All who come to God must be repentant as this is the very first step of a relationship with Jesus Christ. Repentance from sins is one of the six key foundation teachings of the New Covenant as defined in Hebrews 6:1-2. It is by repenting that we are made ready to receive the truth of the New Covenant and to accept Jesus. Jesus said of John that, “This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.'” (Vs. 10) The words John spoke to the people about repentance and baptism were to prepare them for the coming of Jesus and the ministry that was to follow.

Jesus also asked the people why they went out into the wilderness. Was it just to see the sights? That is, did they go to see, “A reed shaken by the wind?” (Vs. 7) No, they went to see and hear the words of John the Baptist. Now as mentioned already, he must have looked a rather odd person, and so the insight we can gain from that is that the word of God can come from anyone or anywhere. When Jesus said in verse 8, “Why then did you go out? To see a man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who wear soft raiment are in kings’ houses,” what he was showing here is that it is not necessary to wear fancy suits and to dress to the nines to get or to receive the word of God. In fact those who “dress to impress” are not doing so for the Lord but for man or for vanity.

Fancy clothes, fine jewellery and so on do not impress God and neither should we be. God is concerned only with the condition of our heart and our faith in his son Jesus Christ. Just because a minister dresses well does not guarantee that his teachings will be any better than one who does not. Ultimately we must look past the man and listen to the words, for this is what God does and what we must do too.

Finally we see that Jesus said in verse 13, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John…” In this statement Jesus is defining the end of a period of time. He said, “All the prophets and the law prophesied until John,” and thus he showed that the end of the Old Covenant period ended with John. From that point on when Jesus began his ministry we saw the coming of the new age of the New Covenant period. And it came violently and with violence, for the New Covenant did not come into force until the violent death of Jesus Christ when he was sacrificed for our sins and raised for our justification.

Who will go into God’s Kingdom?

(Matthew 7:21-23)
 
Jesus tells us in this section of scripture that not everyone will go into God’s Kingdom. There are many who appear to be righteous that will miss out.
 
It is not enough to call on the name of the Lord to gain entry into God’s Kingdom. Jesus says here that not everyone who does so will gain entry. And we see that some of these people who will miss out did many mighty or significant works in the name of Jesus. Yet still they did not gain entry into the Kingdom of God. The question that obviously arises is why? There are many in today’s churches who are seeking to do magnificent works that may miss out too. We see many who set up ministries, who go out into missionary works, who preach and prophesy and exercise the power of the Spirit but still may miss out.
 
The key to entry into God’s Kingdom though is not in the mighty works. It is not in saying great words or preaching the word or prophesying or missionary work or building churches, schools, hospitals or any of the other works that can and are being done. No, the key to entry into God’s Kingdom is by doing the will of the Father.
 
What is the will of the Father? It is to believe in Jesus whom he sent to be our saviour. Paul wrote in Romans 1:17, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” It is by faith or by believing in God and Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour that we shall live and gain entry into God’s Kingdom. The apostle John made it even more clear that faith in Jesus was the key saying in John 6:40, “For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
 
So the key is through faith in Jesus Christ. All the works that a man may do will come to nothing if he does not have faith. It is the condition of the heart and the faith that a person has that is the key. The question will be whether they are truly doing these works for the Lord or for their own benefit. There may be people who believe they can buy or even bribe their way into heaven; that by building churches or setting up ministries of different sorts they can gain forgiveness for their sins or make atonement for their evil ways. Likewise some years ago there used to be talk that by going to church and donating to the church was like putting savings or credits into a “spiritual bank account.” That these things would offset any sins that a person may have committed or would do in the future. There is no spiritual bank account. God does not weigh up a measure of sin and a measure of good deeds to see which pile is the larger to decide whether a person has life or not. Those who believe such things are blind and have been led astray by false teaching and lies. These things are of no consequence for the forgiveness of sin cannot be bought and God cannot be bribed. Forgiveness is freely available to all, but only through faith in Christ Jesus and through repentance.
 
The works of God are not like the works of man. Jesus was asked about this matter in John 6:28-29 which says, “Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So the works of God are about faith in Jesus Christ, and without faith there is no entry into God’s Kingdom. No person will be accepted on the basis of works of the law as Paul wrote in Romans 3:20, “For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” He added in Galatians 2:16, “…a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified.”
 
Do you want to go into God’s Kingdom? Then learn what it means to be doing the will of God. Learn what it is to have faith in Jesus Christ and what to believe, for that is the pathway to life.