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The Sermon on the Mount (Continued)
Matthew 5:43-48 ; Matthew 6:1-15
I. A FOURFOLD COMMAND
1. "Love your enemies." The whole world loves those who love them. That is only natural. But the Lord asks us to go a step farther. He wants us to be better than the world. He wants us to actually love our enemies. Many people try to evade this command by saying that it is not for today. Of course this Scripture is applicable directly to the Kingdom age, but if it is for today, as well as for tomorrow God's people should practice this perfect standard today.
After all, did not Christ love us all while we were yet in sin, and die that we might be saved? Does He not want all men to be saved? Has He not intrusted us with the preaching of the Gospel to the lost? Can we ever win men, until we have first learned to love them?
After all, if we can love our enemies, they will soon love us, and love our Lord; and we will have no enemies. If we have enemies it is our fault. We have not loved them enough.
2. "Bless them that curse you." The natural man immediately seeks to cast slander upon the man who curses him. He wishes to get even. He seeks for vengeance. One curse, with them, brings another curse. They forget that "a soft answer turneth away wrath." There would be no wars, if nations would bless when they are cursed. There would be no hatred, if men would bless when cursed. After all, can men hurt you by cursing you? No. Only God can curse a man. Therefore if a man curses you, remind yourself that he can do you no lasting harm by cursing you. He is merely uncovering the hatred of his heart toward you. You are merely reminded that you have an enemy to win as a friend. Bless him. Speak kindly to him, and of him. Love your enemy. "A soft answer turneth away wrath."
3. "Do good to them that hate you." Two farmers who lived on adjoining farms quarreled continuously, until they actually hated one another. They did all that they could to cause trouble, one for the other. One of them went so far as to deliberately turn his cows loose into his neighbor's truck garden. He was fined, time and again, and gladly paid for the damage done simply because of the satisfaction it gave him to see his neighbor's farm damaged.
The one farmer was saved and began to show kindness to this atheist who hated him so much. One day when the cows were turned into his truck garden, he carefully herded them and took them home, putting them in their barn. He proceeded to water and feed them. He then told the atheist that he had returned his cows for him. The atheist pulled out his check book to write out a check, but the Christian refused to accept it. He had returned good for evil and refused to even demand damages or accept them. The atheist said, "You must take this check or else you will compel me to become a Christian." "Do good to them that hate you." They will soon love you. They will soon love your Christ.
4. "Pray for them which despitefully use you." Pray for their souls. Men who spitefully use you need to know God. They need to know more of God's love. They would not do what they do if they were saved, and living close to the Saviour. Only carnal Christians spitefully use a brother. Then they need your help in prayer. Do not sin against them in failing to pray for them. They will never be different until you pray for them.
II. THE REASON FOR THE COMMAND
1. Like father like son. Does not our Heavenly Father cause the rain to fall both upon the good and the bad? "When the infidel curses God, our Father is too big to try to retaliate. He continues to shower good upon the evil one in hope that he might repent and be saved. If our Heavenly Father sets such an example of love, how can we do otherwise?
2. A reward in Heaven is offered unto those who show kindness in return for evil. If we should try to retaliate, and give vengeance, we cannot really give it, as it is deserved. "Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." The Lord "will repay" in a way in which we cannot. There is a time of judgment coming and God will seek vengeance upon those who have wronged us. At the judgment seat the Lord will reward and make good any damage we have suffered.
3. A long way to perfection. Perfection, as it is used here, means "full growth." But how many of us there are who act like little babies, little infants. We cry and squeal fuss and fight, fume and sputter, as if we were but children. Babies taking bottles! Let us grow until we are full-grown, too big to be ruffled by the trials of life.
I. GIVING ALMS (Matthew 6:1-3 )
1. Not to be seen of men. What is the motive of your gift when you bring your tithes to the House of God? Are you giving because you love the Lord? Are you giving because God's Word commands it? Are you giving as a steward of the Lord's funds, for which you are accountable?
It is a known fact that the church that takes up their offering in a way in which the public is cognizant of the amounts given, and the donors who give, that that church receives more funds than they would otherwise. Is not this a confession that we do not give out of love for the Lord Jesus Christ and His Gospel, when such methods are necessary?
When we are filled with the love of Christ for the lost, when we once catch a vision of the gift of Calvary in all its fullness and sacrifice, we will give because our love for the Saviour compels us to do so.
2. Not sounding a trumpet. In the day of Christ wealthy men gave in the synagogues, in order that their names might be proclaimed in the markets and in the Temple. They wanted to be recognized as great philanthropists. Not only did they have a wrong motive; they had a wrong objective. They appeared to be giving to the poor, while, in reality, they were giving to buy popularity for themselves. When you give, give to pay a debt to the lost. Give to lay up treasures in Heaven. Give to the Lord as a token of your worship.
3. But in secret. If our gifts are given in secret then we may safeguard ourselves against false motives, and false objectives. Many people use this method of giving as an excuse to escape giving. They give the Lord, secretly , a dime, knowing that if they gave publicly they would have given a dollar. Let us not do that, but instead let us give in secret more than we would have given otherwise, that Christ may be glorified.
II. PRAYING (Matthew 6:5-7 )
1. Not to men. Prayer is talking with God. It includes not only our talking to Him, but also His talking to us through the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. Many, many times, however, men pray to men rather than to God. "Was not that a beautiful prayer?" is the remark we often hear. Prayers that are prayed for the sake of their beauty in the ears of men do not reach God.
How often men pray a sermon. God knows more about the Bible than you do. When you pray a sermon, surely you are not talking to God but to men.
2. Not with vain repetition. The heathen pray in vain repetition. Some pray a prayer that has been written out. They read it, but do not mean what they read. It is vain repetition. Still others say grace daily out of force of habit, or pray before retiring at night, merely repeating words, but not meaning or even so much as comprehending what they are saying. It is vain repetition. They pray for food when their cellars and pantries are full. This prayer was given as a model with strict instructions that it should not be prayed in vain repetition.
3. But in secret to the Father. Public prayer is a good thing of course. But the public is no place for long prayers. There is always the temptation to pray to men, rather than with men to God. The secret closet is the true place for prayer. Public prayer is not enough. We need to pray in a united body. There is power in united prayer, but the secret prayer closet is the place where we uncover the innermost secrets and problems of our hearts.
The secret prayer must not be neglected nor overlooked. Be sure that you spend much time alone with God every day, for the sake of fellowship; and also that you might uncover those things that otherwise would never be brought before the Lord in public.
III. A MANNER OF PRAYING (Matthew 6:9-11 )
1. Hallowing God's Name. In the model prayer the Lord Jesus Christ set down in order the topics that should be the theme of our conversation with God. The first thing that we should observe in our conversation with our Heavenly Father is a reverence for His Name and Person. We cannot enter into His presence until we have first removed our shoes from our feet, as did Moses before the burning bush. In approaching the Father, we approach Him, through the Blood of Christ, in all reverence. If we truly revere His Name, we truly love Him.
How many of us limit our prayers to asking God for our temporal needs. Sad to say, some people never pray until they are in need. Before you discuss yourself and your own needs and the needs of this earth, be sure to tell the Father that you love Him. He likes to be loved and revered. He appreciates your reverence and passion for Him.
2. For the coming Kingdom. More important than the things and problems of earth are the problems of the spiritual realm. The one thing that Christ talked most about after His resurrection, was the Kingdom. He wore a crown of thorns that He might reign. The Kingdom is of vital interest to the King. Then in our conversation with God let us talk to Him about His chief interest, of which we are a part. Invite the King to take His Kingdom.
3. After we have prayed to the Father about that which is of foremost interest in His life, then it is time enough to present that which is most important in our temporal welfare, namely, our personal needs. The Father causes the wheat to grow. Then why not ask the Father for bread, and thank Him for it. The Lord wants us to ask Him for our needs and has definitely promised to supply all our needs. Certainly bread is a primary need.
IV. A MANNER OF PRAYER (Matthew 6:12-13 )
1. Prayer for forgiveness demands that we forgive. How can we ask to be forgiven, when we do not forgive? After we have taken Christ as our personal Saviour, and have become the sons of God, we will never be judged as sinners. Our sins are forgiven. But as sons of God, we are punished as children for our sins. Therefore we need to be forgiven when we do evil, lest our Father punish His wayward child. There are times when we all need to be forgiven, therefore, we need to ask forgiveness.
Read the parable of Matthew 18:21-35 . The lesson there is this: If we do not forgive, our Father will not forgive us as His children; and will punish us. "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth" (Hebrews 12:5-11 ).
2. Paying for deliverance. The word temptation here means "trial" or "testing." It undoubtedly has a particular reference to the Great Tribulation that is about to come upon this earth. But every day there are temptations which we face. The Lord does not permit us to enter into any temptation beyond that which we can withstand. Our testings are our purifying stones. Satan is only the pumice stone with which the Lord polishes His saints. Let us thank God for our troubles, and at the same time pray that we might live so close to the Lord that we will not have to be purified by the fires of trial.
3. Praying with adoration. The theme song of our lives should be the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. If we begin our prayer with reverence, let us close it with adoration. That Christ might be first and last always. Never close a prayer until you have expressed your love and appreciation as well as adoration for all that the Lord has done for us.
V. FASTING (Matthew 6:16-18 )
1. The bane of affected piety. Fasting was practiced as a means of expressing the deep distress of the hitman heart before God in prayer. It was sacrificial praying. Many of the people in that day fasted that they might appear to be very pious in the eyes of the people. They wanted others to think that they were religious and deeply spiritual.
The whited sepulcher on the outside, makes people forget the terrible corruption within. Christians, today, seldom fast to cover up the true condition of their sinful lives and hearts. However, they use other methods, such as taking active positions in churches and Sunday Schools. They make loud their testimonies in meetings that people might not suspect their evil deeds and hearts.
2. The sham of mere appearance. Mere appearance is no guarantee of genuineness. All that sparkles is not a diamond. Friendly words do not make a friendly heart. A wise person will not be deceived. Words do not make character. A Sunday cloak will not make a good Christian. Let your life be an open book before God, and pleasing to Him, and men will approve.
3. The test of the genuine. An inexperienced eye may be deceived into thinking that a piece of glass, cut as a diamond is cut, is a genuine diamond; but the trained eye will immediately detect the difference. Human eyes may be deceived by outward appearances, but never will God's expert eye be deceived. You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time but you cannot fool God any of the time.
VI. LAYING UP TREASURES (Matthew 6:19-21 )
1. Earthly treasure. "The stocks have crashed!" That was the cry that rang through the nation one day. "The banks have closed!" was the cry that followed. "I have been robbed," was the cry of others. Will people never learn that the things on this earth are only a passing mirage? We cannot pin our hopes and lives on dreams of air castles that crumble. Do not feel badly if you have lost earthly possessions. You will soon leave them all behind, when you go to Heaven. "The present world" for which Demas forsook Paul has long since fallen into ashes. Nothing is lasting on this earth. The entire earth will eventually flee away and be melted with a fervent heat. Do not invest your life and hopes down here. It is not a safe place to make an investment.
2. Heavenly treasures. A man in Germany shed tears because he had owned six homes and refused to give them to God. He gave only one to God. Within a few days the crash came and he lost the other five. The one he gave to missions is an everlasting investment in Heaven where thieves do not break through and where the wood will not deteriorate.
The rich young ruler was foolish. He turned away from Christ and retained his wealth for a few days. Today he owns nothing. Had he been poor then, he would have fabulous wealth in Heaven for eternity. Christ said the foxes have their holes, and the birds their nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head. Yet Christ owns the universe!
3. Feeling the pulse. We generally give to that which interests us. Likewise, our interests generally center about that upon which we have invested our riches. The man who reads the stock reports is the man who has invested in stocks. The man who gives to Heaven is interested in Heaven. The man who gives to Heaven is the man who is living for "Heaven.
If we live for earthly investments our eye will not be on Christ but on our money. It will not be singled on the Lord. Make all you can but do not "can" all you make. Work for God.
VII. THE FATHER CARETH (Matthew 6:25-33 )
1. Be without anxious thought. The man who worries does not trust. You cannot live a life of faith and worry at the same time. That is not trusting God. The life of faith is the best life. Worry never helped anybody. Worry never paid a bill. Worry never solved a problem. But worry has placed many a person in the cemetery, and made many others sick.
Trust instead of worrying. You will be happier. You need not worry because your Heavenly Father has never failed you, and never will. He knows what is best for your life and for you. You should be content to take it as it comes and thank Him for it, whether it be seemingly good or bad (Romans 8:28 ).
2. Take for example the fowls of the air. Their food is sufficient. Their clothing is gorgeous. The Heavenly Father cares for them. Did you ever see a dog worrying? No. Let us learn a lesson from God's creation.
3. The supreme quest. "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." Whenever we see anyone in need we cannot help but feel that they have not learned the secret of prayer and faith. For our God is "Able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think." If only people would learn to love the Lord, and to know Him they would find the answer to every need in life. And whether we have earthly things or not, if we have Christ, Himself, we have the supreme need of our souls. When His Kingdom is established after His Coming, they will neither hunger nor thirst.
How many there are, alas, who have no eyes to see the great spiritual truths of the "Sermon on the Mount."
"Alas, how often we come upon those who say they can see nothing in the Christian's Bible nor in the Christian religion. But neither the Bible nor the Christian religion is on trial today before such individuals after twenty centuries of triumphant history, during which the swelling chorus of numberless souls has lent testimony to the power of the Gospel as found in the one and to the satisfying worth of Christian experience as lived in the other. If one can see nothing in these things, there is a reason.
"When a man stood before one of Turner's unrivaled paintings and said, 'I can see nothing in it,' the great artist replied, 'Don't you wish you could?'
"Yes, there is a reason.
"There went one day into the famous Tribuna of the Uffizi Gallery of Art at Florence a tourist armed with his Guidebook that gave him at least an air of discernment. He went up to the Curator and said, " 'Are these your masterpieces?'
"'They are, Sir,' said the Curator.
"'Well, I certainly do not see much in them myself,' said the tourist.
"'Sir,' replied the Curator, 'these pictures are not on trial; it is the visitors who are on trial.'" (Unknown.)
God's Forgiveness for Sins
Matthew 6:14-15 ; Matthew 18:21-35
The question which the words of our first text propound, is, Is forgiveness conditional? In answering this query we would say three things.
1. These words concerning forgiveness are spoken strictly to saints. Christ is not telling sinners about how they obtain pardon from their sins, but He is speaking to a covenant people; He is speaking unto those who can rightly address Him as, "Our Father, who art in Heaven."
2. Salvation is not of works, therefore, the forgiveness spoken of in these words is entirely distinct from salvation. He does not say, "If you forgive men their trespasses, you shall be saved," because salvation is of grace through faith and it is not to be obtained by doing anything. Salvation is spelled D-O-N-E and not D-O,
3. Forgiveness is a pre-requisite to fellowship. We cannot walk with Him, having sweet communion, if we are hiding sin in our heart. If the spirit of unforgiveness is separating us from fellowship with our brother, we may be assured that it is also separating us from fellowship with our God. "If we say we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: * * If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." Sonship and fellowship are distinct. We become the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus; we become children by being born of the Spirit; we have fellowship with God when we walk with God and talk with God. All believers have sonship, but not all believers have fellowship.
Now, with these three considerations, we are ready to answer the query, "Is forgiveness conditional?" and we answer positively that it is. If we forgive, we shall be forgiven.
Matthew 18:21-35 . These words tell us what happens unto the servant when he refuses forgiveness. If we forgive, we are forgiven, but if we forgive not, then, according to Matthew 18:34 and Matthew 18:35 , our Lord will be wroth and deliver us to the tormentors until we have paid that which was due unto our fellow servants. This is what our Heavenly Father does unto us when in our hearts we refuse forgiveness for our brother, concerning his trespasses.
I. CHRIST PRAYING FOR HIS ENEMIES (Luke 23:34 )
The words, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do," carry us to the Cross of Christ and display before our vision the mercy and compassion of the Crucified.
Concerning this Cross there are two things we would like to emphasize.
1. The Cross as the climax of suffering. It is not customary to think of Calvary as portraying the deepest anguish that is possible among men, yet this is true. If we gathered together all the sorrows and all the sufferings of all the ages which sin has brought upon the human race, they would not more than equal the bitter cup of sorrow which the Lord Jesus drank upon the Cross.
The two thieves who hung upon the same hill with Him, suffered a similar physical anguish. They knew the pain of the piercing nails, they knew the misery of being stretched upon the wooden bars, but these men knew nothing of the deeper anguish of the Christ of the central Cross. Upon the Lord Jesus Christ hung the woes of the world.
There are dark pictures of hell in the Bible. It is described as the place where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched. It was in hell that the rich man opened up his eyes, being in torments. In Revelation we read of the Lake of Fire where "the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night." None of these pictures, however, can surpass in the way of suffering the "via miserable" that our Lord traveled as He went round and round the cycle of His suffering upon the Cross.
2. The Cross as the climax of mercy. This is a common note. We always delight in it. No verse is more often quoted than this one:
"God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son."
God Himself commends His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
The love displayed upon Calvary's Cross surpasses any manifestation of love ever known to man. Scarcely for a righteous man would one die, yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die, but Christ died for sinners. In His dying, He cried those marvelous words of our text, "Father, forgive them." It was for this very reason that He did die, so that God through Christ's expiatory and substitutionary work might reach down in mercy and save the lost sinner.
II. THE SAINTS' ATTITUDE TOWARD THEIR ENEMIES (Matthew 5:43-48 )
1. We have before us the attitude of men toward their enemies. Christ said, "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy." This is the attitude of the natural man. To carry out such a human precept is not in the least difficult. It is easy to love those who love you, and quite as easy to hate those who despitefully use and persecute you.
2. The attitude of saints toward their enemies. Saints should love their enemies; bless them, and not curse them; do good to them, and not hate them; pray for them and not despise them.
This attitude certainly goes far beyond man's ideas, or even the instructions of the Law. It carries us into the spirit of the Master Himself. The believer should do evil to none, but good to all.
Peter said, "How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times?" That would seem a climax of Christian grace, but Christ replied, "Until seventy times seven."
The Christian should live peaceably with all men. He should never avenge himself. If his enemy hungers, he should feed him; if his enemy thirsts, he should give him drink; if the believer is smitten upon the right cheek, he should turn also the left; if his coat is taken away, he should give his cloak also.
3. The attitude of Christ toward His enemies. Our Scripture says, "For He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust."
There are those who read these words, who will imagine that they do not tally with other statements of Scripture concerning God, in His attitude toward the wicked. For instance, we have often heard that God is angry with the wicked every day. Did not Christ take the whip of cords and drive forth the enemies of His Father's House? Does not Christ at this very moment sit at the Father's right hand anticipating until His enemies are made His footstool?
Yes, this is all true, but it is also true that the same God, who deals in absolute justice and righteousness against the wicked, also gave Christ to die for them. He stands today with His hands extended while He says, "Come, * * and I will give you rest."
III. SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN (Matthew 18:21-22 )
In response to Peter's question as to how oft he should forgive a sinning brother, Christ gave him the royal rule for forgiveness. It was unto seventy times seven. If we are going to follow the Lord Jesus in our attitude of forgiveness, we must remember how compassionate He is. Think of God in the days of Noah and His long-suffering while He waited as the ark was a-preparing, wherein a few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water. Think of all those weary years of Israel's disobedience, as they tramped through the wilderness and as they passed on and on under the judges and then under the kings. Concerning these years, the Word of God remarks: "All day long I have stretched forth My hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people."
Let us remember how the Lord Jesus, when He was moving among Israel, during His earth-life, said, "How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!"
If we are going to forgive as God forgives, and be patient and long-suffering, as He is patient and long-suffering, it will be unto seventy times seven.
IV. HOW GRACE FORGIVES (Luke 7:39-48 )
A woman slipped into the home where Christ was eating with a Pharisee. This woman was a great sinner and the Lord Jesus knew it. Simon found fault with Him, saying, "This Man, if He were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth Him: for she is a sinner." Jesus told Simon He had something to say to him. Then He said:
"There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell Me therefore, which of them will love him most?" Of course, there was but one answer that Simon could give and he said, "He, to whom he forgave most." Christ told Simon he had rightly judged; then He turned unto the woman and said to Simon: "Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest Me no water for My feet: but she hath washed My feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest Me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss My feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed My feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much."
How all of us should bow our heads in contrition and thanksgiving, as we thank God for the forgiveness of our so great a debt!
V. HOW GOD FORGAVE TWO SINNING SAINTS
1. David Forgiven (Psalms 51:1-19 ).
We wish to mention David first, because David had wandered far from God. His bones waxed old with their roaring all the day. He had sinned and sinned grievously. David, however, made confession of his sin; he prayed to the Lord, acknowledging his guilt, and suing for peace. Then it was that the Lord heard him; He washed him from all his iniquity and cleansed him from all his sin, God never held that sin against David, in the after years because it was blotted out and for ever gone.
2. Peter forgiven (Luke 22:31 ).
The Lord knew that Peter would sin against Him and deny Him thrice. Thus it was that He said unto Peter, "Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee." Then He told Peter, "When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren."
The steps of Peter's downfall are known to all, so also the steps of his restoration should be known. When Peter, stood in the room cursing and swearing and saying, "I do not know the man," the Lord turned His compassionate eyes and looked at Peter. After His resurrection, a message was sent, saying, "Go * *, tell His disciples AND PETER"; then, later on, He appeared unto Peter and, finally, as they sat around the fire, He restored Peter fully to his place of fellowship and of service.
VI. THE BASIS AND REACH OF GOD'S FORGIVENESS
1. God's basis of forgiveness (Ephesians 1:7 ).
If we owe God a debt and He forgives it, He must assume the loss as He gives us credit in full for our indebtedness. There must be a ground on which God forgives. On the one hand, of course, it is our confession, but bur confession does not lessen the fact of our debt; therefore, there must be an additional basis. The Word of God says, "In whom we have redemption through His Blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace." God places the responsibility, the wages, the debt of our sin over on to Christ; Christ bears them all upon the Cross; He suffers, the Just for the unjust; therefore, God, in riches of grace, finds a ground on which His forgiveness can operate.
2. God's far reach in forgiveness (Psalms 103:3 ).
"Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases." The Lord, our God, is speaking here primarily of Israel, in the coming days, when they shall be restored to the land, inheriting the earth. Then it is that all Israel's iniquities shall be forgiven and all her sicknesses healed. There is, nevertheless, a glorious application of this Scripture to us. It does not matter how great the sin, He is a greater Saviour; if sin abounds, grace will much more abound. The reach of God's forgiveness includes all sin.
The following item was clipped from a recent American publication and it tells its own story one of magnanimity.
"Love your enemies, * * and pray for them which despitefully use you." How impossibly ideal that seems at first! As a matter of fact, it is the most practical and rational for daily living that could be laid down.
In the course of the Armenian atrocities a young woman and her brother were pursued down the street by a Turkish soldier, cornered in an angle of the wall, and the brother was slain before his sister's eyes. She dodged down an alley, leaped a wall and escaped. Later being a nurse, she was forced by the Turkish authorities to work in the military hospital. Into her ward was brought, one day, the same Turkish soldier who had slain her brother. He was very ill. A slight inattention would insure his death. The young woman, now safe in America, confesses to the bitter struggle that took place in her mind. The old Adam cried, "Vengeance"; the new Christ cried, "Love." And equally to the man's good and to her own, the better side of her conquered, and she nursed him as tenderly as any other patient in the ward.
The recognition had been mutual, and one day, unable longer to retain his curiosity, the Turk asked his nurse why she had not let him die; and when she replied, "I am a follower of Him who said 'Love your enemies and do them good.'" he was silent for a long time.
At last he spoke: "I never knew there was such a religion. If that is your religion tell me more about it, for I want it."
One is haunted by the idea that if, on any large scale, Christians should exhibit magnanimity as the Sermon on the Mount enjoins, there would be stirred up in the heart of this very bitter and vindictive world a wistful response like the Turk's.
First Things First
What God puts first, we may not put second. There are some things that have our first thought, our first consideration. There are some other things that should be done first, before other things are done. The very word "first" carries with it the thought of precedence. Not but what the second and perhaps a third thing should be done, but that the first thing should have the place of prominence, or be given priority over other things.
In deciding what should be first we have some instructions from God which will be worthy of obedience.
The first verse of the Bible opens, "In the beginning God." This is the order in which God should always be placed first, ahead of all other persons or things. The creator should have pre-eminence over the creature; the potter should have "first place" over the clay.
A boastful student sought to humanize God, when, in his graduating thesis, he wrote:
"Not throned above the stars of night,
Here in America we must see,
The love of man to man,
A new world, republican,
A Christ not super-human,
But reborn in man and woman."
To make sure the meaning of his words, we quote this striking phrase from his poem:
"Mankind, is Christ, retired, re-crucified;
No God for a gift God gave us,
Mankind and man alone must save us."
He who breathes the spirit of this verse, sets himself up above the Creator. He cries out with Pharaoh, "Who is the God of the Jews, I know Him not, neither will I serve Him." He listens to the age-worn voice of Satan as he said to the first parents, "Ye shall be as gods."
The second man, Cain, breathed this spirit of self-pride and of boastful arrogance, when he refused to bend the knee to God as a suppliant, in need of atoning Blood, but professed himself an equal, if not a peer to the Almighty, willing merely to pass respects with God.
Nebuchadnezzar gave himself the first place when, as he viewed the walls of Babylon and her hanging gardens, festooned with ferns and flowers and filled with birds, he said, "Is not this the great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?"
The Book of Romans sums up this spirit of debasing God and of deifying man, when it says, "And changed the glory of God into an image made like to corruptible man." * * "And worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever."
I. CHRIST PRE-EMINENT (Colossians 1:18 )
In our Scripture text, we are told to give Christ preeminence that is to make Him first. He should have first place because He is the image of the invisible God, the Firstborn of every creature. In the beginning before anything was made that is made, Christ was with God, and Christ was God. By Him all things were made that are in heaven and on the earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones or dominions, or principalities or powers, all things were made by Him and for Him, and He is before all things and in Him all things are held together.
If in order Christ is God and God is first, then the things which God created, and which are the work of His own hands, acknowledged Him Head to all things. Mark the significance of these words:
"Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."
Shall we leave Christ there on the Cross, in our thinking and words and deeds? Shall we add other thorns to His brow, and other nails for His hands and feet? Shall we mingle our spit with the spit of the maddened rulers?
Or, shall we do what God the Father did "Wherefore God also hath exalted Him, and given a Name that is above every name."
God has said, "That at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow," and "every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
When Victoria was crowned queen of England, it is said that at a signal in the ceremonies the old coronation hymn was to be sung. When they came to the words, "And crown Him Lord of all," all the high-born ladies and lords of the realm were to bend the knee, while the queen wearing her new crown was to rise with bowed head. When the ceremonies reached the singing of
"All hail the power of Jesus' Name,
Let angels prostrate fall,
Bring forth the royal diadem,
And crown Him Lord of all,"
then all fell to their knees, and the Queen of England like-wise fell down as a suppliant, and crowned Christ as her Lord, and as Lord of all.
Are we willing now to crown Him? Are we ready to make the glad acclaim?
II. GOD FIRST IN OUR GIFTS (1 Kings 17:13-15 )
Elijah arose and went unto Zarephath where God had commanded a widow to sustain him. Upon arrival Elijah found the woman gathering sticks: and he called unto her and said, "Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink, * * and * * a morsel of bread in thine hand."
The widow replied, "As the Lord thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and behold I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die."
Elijah answered. "Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son. For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth."
Even so it came to pass. The barrel of meal wasted not, nor did the oil fail.
There is a tremendous lesson in all of this for us. If God is first in honor and glory and in the worship of our hearts, He should be first in our gifts. How can we forget that the firstfruits of all our substance belong unto God? Before we meet our own needs, we should give to God His tithe, or even more than a tithe.
Is not God back of all that we possess? Does He not give us the power to make money? Are the cattle on a thousand hills not His? Are not the silver and the gold His? Have we not received of His bounties? Has not our God given us the increase of our fields? Shall we think first of ourselves when He has thought first of us?
III. GOD SHOULD BE FIRST IN OUR AFFECTIONS (Luke 9:58-62 )
In this passage there are three would-be followers. The first wanted to follow Christ, but Christ plainly told him that "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head." That seemed to put a quietus on that young man.
The second would have liked to have followed Christ, but he said, "Suffer me first to go and bury my father."
The third would also follow, but he said, "Let me first go bid them farewell which are at home at my house."
What right have we to place anything ahead of Christ and of God? The two tables of stone carried first our duties toward God, and secondly our duties toward our fellow man. We have no right to say that the first and great commandment is "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," for that is the second great commandment. The first commandment is, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind."
Jesus Christ must have an unrivaled supremacy in the affections of the heart. If any man love father or mother more than Christ, he is not worthy of Christ; if any man love brother or sister more than Christ, he is not worthy of Christ. If any man loves wife, or any wife loves husband more than Christ, each is unworthy of Christ.
Peter said to Christ, "Lo, we have left all, and have followed Thee."
The Lord Jesus must have the first place in the affections. There is a story of the Roman Senate sending to Paul and offering him a nook in the Parthenon where he might place the relics of his God along by the side of the gods of other religions. Paul is reputed to have written to the Roman Senate and to have said, "My Lord will not share honor with any other. He must have all of the Parthenon, or He will have none.
IV. GOD MUST BE FIRST IN OUR OBEDIENCE (Acts 4:18-20 )
Peter felt this most keenly and expressed it most clearly when they said, "We ought to obey God rather than men." Children should obey their parents, but they are told to obey them in the Lord. The authority of Christ must take precedence over parents.
Citizens should pay tribute to their governments, and obey the voice of their governments as expressed in its laws, but citizens should place God as supreme. We should render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's but we should render to God the things that are God's.
If the government should dictate to us concerning our obedience to Christ, we should reply, "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak (or do) the things which we have seen and heard."
When the soldiers of the Third Georgia Regiment, marched down the Central City Park (Macon, Ga.) under review of President McKinley it was a beautiful sight. How marvelously they obeyed the calls of their commanders! They stood still, or went forward, or turned right about face, and marched, as one man. Whenever the clarion voice of the officer gave the order, they obeyed.
We need obedience such as this in the Church of Christ. We should give ourselves first unto God.
We well remember speaking to an intimate friend of our college days. He had gone far beyond us in a collegiate way. He was ready to stand in the front of any educational standard. We met him as we walked across the campus in Northfield, Mass. A little later as we strolled together, we said, "Arthur, is your life wholly yielded to God?" He said, "No, Ed, it is not." We said, "What, and you a minister of the Gospel and not yielded to God?" He told us the reason for his statement was that he had great plans to lead his denomination, and to surpass other preachers, and that he was working for a big church no matter what God said. Alas, alas! However, thank God, he soon did yield himself to God, without reservations, and today he is preaching the Gospel in the distant mission fields, being greatly used of the Lord.
V. GOD SHOULD BE FIRST IN THE SINNER'S QUEST (Matthew 6:33 )
There is a verse of Scripture that comes into our mind. All of you are familiar with it. "But seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness."
Before Christ spoke these words He said, "Take no thought saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek."
That Christ did not mean that such things had no place we know, because He Himself gave them a place. However, He did teach that they should not have the first place, for He said, "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness."
The question is that of preferment. There are some who give God no place at all. They live for the things which are seen. They lay up their treasures on earth. They love the present world. God is entirely forgotten and neglected. Christ has no place in their lives.
There are some who give God a place, but a small place. They relegate Christ and religion to some small recess of their heart. They carry a form of religion. They give the Lord a passing consideration. However, their chief thought is the world and the things of the world. They may appear to love God, but they are lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.
Let us look at this thing from another angle. There are some who want to be saved, but they do not want to be saved now. They first want to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; they first want to fulfill the desires of their flesh and of their mind. Then they argue with themselves that sometime, in the distant years they will turn to God.
This is all wrong. If one is coming to Christ he should come now. He should make Christ first, salvation first, Heaven first.
REMEMBER OUR TEXT THAT IN ALL THINGS HE MIGHT BE FIRST.
How shabbily many of us treat the Lord! His work demands money. How can men go forth to the far-flung mission fields unless they are sent and sustained by the ones at home? How can the churches at home become effective unless the saints at home stand by them with their gifts?
Years ago we visited a church with one hundred thrifty members. They had given, during the past year the miserly sum of $5.00 to Home and Foreign missions in a whole year. We spoke to one of their members, a stalwart farmer. We asked him how many bales of cotton he had made the past season. He responded, "One hundred." We asked him if he had been a Jew how many bales the law would have required at his hand, for God's treasury. He told us "ten." Ten bales of cotton represented $500 in those days. He had raised also an abundance of peanuts, corn, oats, and everything else raised on a Southern plantation. We asked him how much of the $5.00 he had given, and he said, "Twenty-five cents."
Alas, alas. That is too often the story. The reason some give nothing and others give so little, is because God does not hold the first place in their lives. The Macedonian Christians first gave themselves unto God. Because of this, they also gave of their money, as they were able, yea, and more than they were able. In their deep poverty and affliction they abounded unto the riches of their liberality. They gave as they were able, yea and more than they were able, interesting the Apostle Paul to accept their gifts and to minister unto the needy saints.
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Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Matthew 6". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12