Not Peace but a Sword

(Matthew 10:34-39)

Here is a fascinating scripture, especially at this time of the year when people have been celebrating Christmas. At Christmas we see people saying, “Peace on earth and goodwill to men.” One of the challenges we find in the Bible is that every now and then there are scriptures that seem to contradict each other. This requires a deeper study of the word to unravel the mystery hidden in the words, for God does not contradict himself, and nor does the scripture. When there seem to be contradictions, it generally means either we do not understand what the Lord is driving at, or there may be an issue with the translation of the text.

We are fortunate today there have been a great many texts of the New Testament uncovered, including some of great age going back to the time when the letters and gospels were first written. Thus the translators of the more modern Bibles have more ancient texts to work with, which helps overcome the confusion when there are only a few documents and they conflict. Most of the errors of the old documents are transcription errors for the letters and gospels were hand-written and then copied by hand to distribute them. With each copy, and subsequent generations of copies, errors could creep in. Thus the older the text the more likely it is to be accurate.

There is a difficulty in Luke 2:14 where some of the old manuscripts have been translated as, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” (KJV) However since the King James bible was written in 1611, many more ancient manuscripts have been located making for better and more accurate translations. With the addition of more ancient manuscripts, the translators of the more modern bibles read (in some form or other) Luke 2:14, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” The key here is that peace is towards those, “…with whom he is pleased.” This is the way this scripture is translated in the NIV, Amplified Bible, New Living Translation, ASV, RSV, The Message, ESV, Contemporary English Version, New Century Version and the Common English Bible. Indeed all of the more modern texts of the New Testament use a translation similar to this. The older translations, such as Young’s and Darby’s Bibles did not have the benefit of the more ancient manuscripts and are typically like the KJV for that same reason.

Now this is quite a different rendering of this popular Christmas quote. When we see that there is peace and good will to those, “…with whom he is pleased,” we see a quite different picture emerge. Among those with whom he is NOT pleased there is no peace or goodwill. Rather for those who choose to do evil and to do the opposite of what God requires there is judgement.

In this section when Jesus said, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword,” we see there are two aspects to this statement. First, for those who choose to do evil and oppose what is good, there is the sword of judgement. They will be given every opportunity to repent and turn to God, but if they persist in their evil ways, they will suffer judgement and will not receive the eternal life and peace offered to those who please Him. Secondly, there is a polarising effect in following the word of God and Jesus. There is a sword of division that will divide all those who choose the path of righteousness in Jesus and separate them from those who do not.

Thus in a family, we will see divisions between family members where it is those who follow God separated from those who do not. And Jesus shows this saying he will set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and in-laws against each other and the basis of this separation is those who follow Christ will be separated from those who do not.

He also shows in verse 37 that this is a serious matter. Nothing and nobody must get between us and the love of Christ Jesus. Our walk with him is what will determine whether we receive the reward or not. In these verses he says, “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” He is not saying we should not love and care for our family, but that we must keep things in perspective. Our first duty is to follow the Lord and then everything else comes after that. As mentioned above, there will be a sword of division in families, and those who are not of the Lord will put pressure on those who are following Christ. They will try to pull them away from Christ and put obstacles in the way of the followers of Jesus. So the point Jesus is making here is we must not allow their attempts to pull us away to succeed. We must make our faith and following the Lord the first priority and when a conflict arises, choose the Lord…always.

Will we suffer doing this? Yes! Jesus said also in verses 38-39, “…he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” Using the analogy of taking up the cross Jesus is saying whoever is not prepared to suffer for the sake of their Christian walk and following Jesus will be considered unworthy. When he adds that, “…whoever finds his life will lose it,” he is saying that if we seek the life and living of this world we will lose our eternal life if we are not prepared to give up all for his sake. The converse applies too, in that if we lose everything in this life for the sake of the Lord, we will find our life into eternity with him.

The essence of this section is that we must put our walk with Christ above all other things. It’s that important. Everything else pales into insignificance compared to the worth of knowing Jesus and following his ways. For in him we have hope and the promise of a better life both here and now, and in the future a life into eternity with him.

Seek First the Kingdom of God and other teachings

(Matthew Chapter 6, Verses 16-34)

Jesus continues his teachings about not doing things to be seen by men in verses 16-17 saying when you fast you should not look dismal, but rather go about your business as if all were normal.

Let us look for a moment at the scriptural significance of fasting as it matters to the Christian under the New Covenant.
In Jewish laws and customs fasting had several purposes and breadth of application. There were four appointed public fasts mentioned in the Old Testament, and a fifth that was less stringently applied. There were also appointed fasts set up by rabbis. In addition people often held personal and private fasts for various reasons.
One of the customs that arose from private practice but with no specific scriptural basis was fasting twice a week, specifically on Mondays and Thursdays.
Fasting is seen as the abstinence from food and/or drink, but the Hebrew words that it is translated from also have a broader application. They can include all forms of abstinence such as washing, comfort, anointing, wearing of shoes as well as abstaining from the desires of the flesh and passion that leads to sin.
Some more information on the Purpose and Conception of fasting includes:
In the ancient Near East (ie. not in the scripture), prayer and fasting were advocated as a means to have one’s requests fulfilled by the gods. The Bible emphasizes that the fast is not an end in itself but only a means through which man can humble his heart and repent for his sins; his repentance must manifest itself in his deeds (Joel 2:13; Jonah 3:8). The idea is especially stressed in Isaiah (58:3ff.) where the contrast is made between a fast which is not accompanied by any real repentance, and which is therefore unacceptable to God, and the true fast which leads to God’s merciful forgiveness: “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the fetters of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free… Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him… Then shalt thou call, and the Lord will answer.”
Other scriptures also stressed that a fast without sincere repentance is valueless and senseless (Jer 14:10-12, Isaiah 58:1-9). Jesus upbraided the Pharisees example of fasting for the did it to just look and appear religious but failed in the requirement of a penitent heart or a desire to come close to God. To them the fast was a bit like the prayers of empty words discussed in the last post and became a meaningless and futile exercise as they were seeking the approval of men rather than God.
Verses 19-21 talk about the seeking of money and wealth. The issue here is not the money or wealth in themselves for in reality they are neutral. Rather it is the condition of the heart of the person. If a person puts their trust and hopes on money and wealth they are behaving foolishly for all things of this earth are temporary and will ultimately disintegrate through time or may be lost and stolen. Today we see this is even more apparent for the ravages of inflation and the financial crises that have arisen from time to time wreak havoc with the value of money. You cannot trust in money to save you or to get you through anything. And as the Lord showed in this section, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” If we make our treasure in the heavenly places and put our value on praise, worship and the seeking of God rather than seeking the temporary riches and pleasures of this life, then our hearts will be with God and we will receive his blessings.
The next section from vs. 22-23 continues and expands this teaching saying, “The eye is the lamp of the body.” It is through our senses and especially our eyes that we perceive the world. If we look for good things then we fill our mind, heart, soul and life with the light of what is good. But if we seek out the things that are evil and bad in this world then in a similar way we will pollute our life and our thinking which guides our life will be unsound. When we seek God and the truth of all matters, we seek what is good, holy, just and true for in God there is no darkness of evil. It is important for us to watch carefully what we seek with our eyes and other senses for we become what we take in through the senses. The surest way to be free from evil is not to accept it in through senses in the first place and thus not allow it into your heart and mind to pollute your thinking.
Jesus continues in the next verse (24) showing again the problems of seeking money saying, “You cannot serve God and mammon,” (mammon being a Semitic word for money). You cannot serve two masters for you will end up being devoted to one and hating the other. At some point in time the two masters will pull in different directions and a choice will need to be made which will cause you to oppose one or the other. If it is money you are serving, seeking to find riches, at some point it will lead you away from God. And as discussed earlier, money will never and cannot ever save you.
Now Jesus understood that we will be anxious about these things, for in the next section from vs. 25-34 he teaches the we should not be anxious. There is a great promise in this section that God will provide for his people. All that we need to sustain our life and live well will be provided when we seek Him. All of the world seeks the things of the world and the Lord knows there are things we need for daily subsistence. He knows we need food, clothing, shelter, water and so on and in this section of scripture he has promised he will provide all those things. But he also makes the point that we must get our priorities right. In vs. 33 it is clear that we must, “…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” This is a call to align our lives correctly and put our treasure in the Lord. This is a call to seek out what is good and right and true and not look for the evil things of this world. This is a call to put our trust and hope in a living God and not to trust in the temporal things of this world that have no real power to save us. And if we do these things, then there is no need for us to be anxious for God will sustain us both today, tomorrow and forever.