How Jesus Restores Mankind Part 4, Freedom

The Praise of Man

Giving in Secret

The last two posts looked at the sermon on the mount to consider Jesus’s prescription for the restoration of men and women on the earth. First we looked at his words on anger and murder, then his words on lust and sexual sin, and we noted the extreme freedom that his viewpoint brings to those who have ears to hear and want something better than what passes in the world for happiness and fulfillment. 

Next in the sermon on the mount Jesus discusses divorce. In light of what he says about lust, this one should be easy.  Then oaths: If you are a truly honest person, you don’t need them.  Then retaliation: Don’t retaliate, because you are free from anger. And, love for enemies: Having this will free you from anger and the need for retaliation. After this, in Matthew 6, Jesus moves into subtler territory and gets at the heart of a prevalent issue in the human condition: Doing things, even religious things, to collect the praises of man.  

First, he addresses the subject of giving.  Most people have a hard enough time making themselves give away any money at all. Often, ministries and charities make use of our fallen nature to manipulate us to give, and that usually revolves around other people knowing what you give.  Whether it is in a church where the pastors make it known that they see who gives what, or it is a philanthropist getting their name on a hospital wing, most know that people will tend to give more in public than they will in private.  Why is this?  There can only be one answer to this question: Because we are giving what we are giving to be seen by men, rather than God. Jesus saw the problem with this and called it out in verses 1-4 of Matthew 6.  He said, to paraphrase, that we should not let anyone see us giving to the needy.  If we “practice our righteousness before other people,” then we will receive the reward we are clearly looking for, the esteem of others.  When we have received that, then there is no more reward to be had by God.  

This is tragic, because Jesus died to set us free from the shame brought on by sinfulness, first seen in the garden (Gen 3:10).  It is this shame that compels us to practice righteousness in order to be seen. These righteous acts are like the fig leaves covering Adam and Eve.  The reward that Jesus desires for us is freedom from this shame. When we are free, then we are free to give in secret. 

The reward that the Father will give us is that of freedom from the bondage of needing the approval of others that we have been seeking to cover our shame, or our sense of worthlessness.  

Rather than fig leaves, Jesus is the animal skins that the Father so lovingly gave to Adam to cover him by his work, instead of Adam’s.  Jesus says to us by his coming and his death for us that we have no need to hide behind the approval of others. When we as Christians give in secret, we reinforce the truth and starve out the lie.  That reinforcement strengthens us at the core, bringing us more peace, more joy, more stability in Christ, more of the good kind of pride, better fellowship with God, because there is less hiding. The reward of the praise of man is a cheap substitute that will not pay off in the end and keeps us from the real prize.  

Praying in Secret

All the very same principles apply in the area of prayer.  If you want to see someone put on a show, put them in a corporate prayer session.  I am a pastor, and I weekly battle the temptation when praying at the end of a sermon to “perform” the closing prayer.  I don’t even realize when I’m doing it!  It’s easier for me to notice when others are doing it.  Granted, it takes a great deal of freedom to become the kind of person who will pray in front of others in the exact same way that he or she prays alone.  You don’t have to want to put on a show for that to be what happens. I would say that for 99% of us, it is the default.  But Jesus shows us here that by refusing to participate in the normal way of doing it, praying, at least partly, for show, and instead just pouring out your heart to God when you are praying with others, or even praying only alone for a while, we will receive a reward from God in the way of answered prayer, and as with the giving in secret, in the way of a strengthening of faith and character.  

Forgiveness 

Next, after teaching them the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches his disciples that they must forgive others or they will not be forgiven by their Heavenly Father. This is some strong language.  To fail to forgive others keeps you in the bondage of sin and hell, and proves that you’ve yet to understand and accept God’s forgiveness, either because you don’t think you need it, or you don’t think he is kind enough, or loves you enough to forgive you.  If you are holding any unforgiveness, stop everything and deal with it. God will help you. 

Fasting

Briefly, fasting is a spiritual discipline that can be helpful in learning to abide in Christ.  It is also super impressive to the churchy crowd that is impressed by that sort of thing. Knowing this, Jesus warns against the hypocritical tendency of religious folks to fast and make it clear to everyone how miserable they are because they are so holy and are not eating.  Once again, what is at issue is the bondage of needing to put on a show, for whatever reason, to impress others.  The more you will engage in these sorts of practices without telling anyone, the more you will be transformed into the likeness of Christ.  

The rest of the sermon on the mount deals less with living for the attention and praise of man, and more with an inward heart towards God. We will discuss it further in the coming days.

Why is it Not OK to Love the World?

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life (or pride in possessions) — is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. — 1 John 2:15

At first this sure sounds ominous. If we read it a certain way, we must take some drastic action.

  1. Don’t allow yourself to love anything in the world. No certain food, no pleasure, no sex, no entertainment, no work, no sport, no relationships, friendships, nothing can be desired. 
  2. All of the above is evil and proves that you don’t love God.
  3. Pride of life? Think of yourself as lowly, a worm. 
  4. Look at the world and hate all of it.  

Along with this, give away everything you have that you like, or just give away everything. Don’t take care of yourself. But do take care of others. Don’t eat. But do feed others. Work, but don’t pay your mortgage. But pay your neighbors’ mortgages until you have no more money, and then you can rest easy, unless you realized that you could work a few more hours a day to pay your other neighbor’s mortgage.  

Did you find yourself enjoying something or someone in the world? Shame on you. Get rid of it. 

Some Biblical and Logical Problems with This Interpretation

It cannot be that this is what John and the Holy Spirit meant.  The Bible (and logic) refutes this interpretation.  

[btw – this is what critics of faith have against us. They say, “look, you don’t do what the Bible teaches, you must be hypocrites.]

The Logical Problem

The logical problem first: I could not live if every time I am thirsty I give water to someone else (my neighbor). If you agree that that is true, then you will open the door to a logical premise. The individual must first care for himself before he can care for others.

“If a man will not work, he will not eat” (2 Thes 3:10).  Paul says this because he knows that proper stewardship begins with a stewardship of self.  As humans we are to take care of whatever God has given us to take care of.  It would be morally wrong, sinful, disobedient to God to fail to do this.  

I must drink when I am thirsty. Jesus did. I must eat when I am hungry. Jesus did. 

But I must not love food and drink more than God.  

But No Helping that Hurts

I must work to pay for my food and shelter, my family’s food and shelter, and then I can think about helping others with theirs.

But I cannot give to others in a way that robs them of the privilege of being human and becoming self-reliant, which is a high trait of godliness. When I give, I must give properly.

And I cannot coerce anyone else to give. It may be efficient (doubtful), but it is immoral.  

To love the Father and not love the thing he has created, seems to be antithetical to loving him.  I must assume that John’s meaning is that the love of things and the love of God need to be in their proper place.  Do I love something more than God—meaning, could I not live without it?  Then I have broken the commandment and proved myself to not have the love of the Father in me.  

But if in fact I know that I love God more than his good creation, and can live without any of it, then I am probably on righteous grounds.  

Am I to hate anything that God has created?  No, unless by hate the world (the way Jesus says it) you mean compared to God. 

Am I to consider myself a worm?  Only in comparison with God. Am I tempted to think of myself higher than God, or higher than someone who has excelled beyond me?  Then I should happily consider myself a worm.  

But if I see that God is high above me as my creator and the source of all good, then I should see myself properly as the crown jewel of his creation. I should joyfully strive to be the greatest version of that that I am capable of becoming, always content with who I am intrinsically as an image-bearer and adopted son of God in Christ, but lovingly and joyfully reach upward to be better, learn more, fly higher for love of God, for the glory of God, for the joy of being a man.  

I will love mankind more this way.  I will worship God more when I see man in his glory.  I will acknowledge greatness with humble joy, and seek to emulate it. 

Jesus said to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you (Mt 6:33).

The Biblical Problem

These things were clothing, food, and drink. Jesus was saying not to worry, YOU were going to get clothing, food, and drink. 

He doesn’t say to hate clothing, food, and drink.

Paul says to Timothy:

6 But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs (1 Tim 6:6-10).

And then:

17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

20 O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you.

Always be prepared to be stripped naked.  You may die naked.  

Don’t let that change one thing about you fundamentally.  

He even admits that food and clothing are good to have. Loving money in this sense is the evil of seeking money for money’s sake.  But it would be nonsense to tell someone to be indifferent about the fact that we need money if we are to have food and clothing.  Again, you may lose it all. If losing your money would diminish your personhood, then you have built yourself wrongly on possessions. 

Then rich Christians are acknowledged (17). Their temptation would be haughtiness because of their wealth. Again, since wealth is uncertain, they are in danger.  They could not be “stripped” of their wealth and remain confident, free, joyful. 

They are in a good position to do good works, seeing their money as a trust from God to do good. 

And then Timothy is charge to guard the “deposit entrusted” to him.  This is money language. But it is more likely that money itself, currency, is from the language of God. Meaning, Paul isn’t borrowing from accounting to tell Timothy to guard his “wealth” (his calling, his knowledge, his faith, his opportunities), But accounting borrows from the language of stewardship.  Money falls into that as a neutral representation of wealth and the power to gain what is needed either for one’s own needs, or to help others. 

Helping others can come in the form of charity, but it can also come in the form of business and production.  

One More Fact of Logic

Giving is only meaningful if the gift truly belongs to the giver.  This alone is proof that God allows us to bring our possessions under our identity (in a certain sense).  The great sin of most people is that they bring their identity under their possessions. And what makes it an even greater sin is the “pride” that has them do that for the sake of comparing themselves to others in order to develop self-esteem from comparison. This is a great evil, and it always ends in pain.

The “world” then is the kingdom of darkness that runs on envy and the bad kind of pride that relies on recognition and validation from others. In the world is domination, and coercion, and bondage, and manipulation, and lying in all its forms. 

“Do not love the world or the things of the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life (possessions).”

The desires of the flesh are extras that are needed to fulfill cravings. The pride of life is the life of comparisons.