*The Sermon on the Mount – Is it easy to practice?
*Can one give alms from a wrong motive?
*Can one “show-off” in prayer?
*Why did Jesus give us the Lord’s prayer?
*What are some hindrances to one’s spiritual life?
The Sermon on the Mount contains the heart and core of Christian teaching. In it Jesus explained the spiritual intent of the law-the magnification of the Old Testament principles. An examination of these teachings clearly tells us that the real problem is not what Jesus taught, but being able to put it into practice. In reality, man cannot put these principles into practice without the help of the Holy Spirit.
In Matthew 6:1-6 Jesus takes up the matter of self-glorification. Many people have the tendency to show off, to glorify the self. Alms-giving is one of the primary methods by which many choose to be pretentious. By acts of charity one can display his or her beneficence; he can advertise his benevolence. But notice the warning Jesus gave.
Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
The only reward for displaying one’s charity before men will be some human recognition. But there will be no recognition from God. Why? Because the motive is wrong. The real motive should be to help the disadvantaged, not to display one’s “compassion.” While today we do not practice blowing a trumpet in order to display our alms, we often see lists of charity-givers in the newspapers. So, what is the difference? Self-glorification is of no value to God. Such people have had the only reward they will ever get. Jesus said not to let the left hand know what the right hand has done. What did He mean? He more than likely meant that after giving alms one should not dwell on the deed or think about it too long. To do so is a form of self-aggrandizement. Better yet, if possible, give alms in secret. In that way no form of recognition can be realized. The only reward that is of any lasting value will be from God.
Prayer is another method used to aggrandize the self. If done as a matter of public pretense, it is an utter waste of time. What did Jesus say? “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward” (Matt. 6:5). Again, the only reward such people receive is the brief recognition from men. Rather, Jesus said, “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matt. 6:6). There are times, of course, when public prayer is appropriate. But, even then it should not be done in an ostentatious display. Generally, public prayer should be brief, sincere, and to the point-not lasting for a lengthy period of time, but again, not too brief either. Personal prayer is another matter, and the length of time should be determined by the exigency of the situation.
Then in Matthew 6:7-13 Jesus gave a sample prayer to teach us how to pray. While this prayer, often referred to as the Lord’s Prayer, is quoted verbatim in many religious services, this was not the intent of the instruction. As a sample prayer it teaches us not to be repetitious, to recite mantras, or to continually duplicate what has been said previously. Jesus’ instruction was:
But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
The sample prayer is a model and begins by showing the proper respect toward God. Once it is understood that this prayer is a model prayer, one can tailor his or her prayer accordingly. So, the way to pray, Jesus said, was to acknowledge God the Father. Next, to pray for His work. Then, one should pray for himself-his needs, as well as the needs of others. Lastly, he should once again acknowledge the sovereignty and power of God. The seven points of this prayer are outlined in verses ten through thirteen and serve as an outline, guide, and general approach to private prayer. Forgiving others is one of the most difficult things for many to do. This is why Jesus emphasized, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14-15). There is not a man alive that does not sin. So, Jesus is saying those who refuse to forgive others will not be forgiven by the Father in heaven. Sometimes much prayer is required before one can find it in his heart to forgive others.
Jesus discussed the matter of fasting-that is, going without food or water for a period of time. Those who fast for recognition by men will receive no value from it.
Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly (Matt. 6:16-18).
Fasting is a way to draw closer to God. It requires humbling the self and acknowledging the total reliance we have on God for all things. When one is close to God his or her prayer will generally be heard. Why? Because God knows we now mean business. What we are asking in prayer, if it is according to the will of God, will be granted in God’s due time. The main goal, however, is eternal life, and one should never place the acquisition of wants of various kinds ahead of this one main goal. We must be careful what we request in prayer because often people request things that are not in their best interests and are sometimes even harmful for them.
The acquisition of riches is one of the major stumbling blocks to the Christian life. Jesus discussed the matter of riches in the Sermon on the Mount. He said, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:19-21). The quest for wealth has destroyed countless numbers of people spiritually. It often becomes an obsession that takes control of many people’s entire lives; it is like a disease. The hoarding of wealth is an ultimate act of selfishness. On the other hand, the acquisition of spiritual treasure is determined by one’s unselfish desire to help others and not to amass wealth for oneself. The treasures of heaven cannot be taken away while material possessions and wealth, as Jesus said, can rust, deteriorate, lose their value, or be stolen. One whose heart is wrapped up in material possessions will not have his heart wrapped up in God. The rewards will be short-lived or disappointing in the end.
The need to focus on the eternal things of God is what Jesus emphasized next. He said, “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light” (Matt. 6:22). What did Jesus mean? He meant that the eye that is single, or sound, will be focused. The eye is important because it gives one knowledge, facts, and understanding. The eye is the receptor for the brain. So, what Jesus is saying is that if the eye, in conjunction with the brain, is focused on God alone, then one will be enlightened spiritually. But what if one is not focused on God? “But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matt. 6:23). Evil in this context means an unwholesome condition. What unwholesome condition? Not focused on God alone! The result: The entire person will be spiritually dark, with no understanding and grasp of the really important issues of life. Again, the eye is the receptor for the brain. A brain or mind that is not oriented or focused on God will lead one to complete spiritual darkness. “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways” (Jas. 1:8).
In the same vein Jesus emphasized the importance of serving God rather than materialism. “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24). So, it boils down to a question of trust. What will we trust? God or mammon-wealth, treasure? One who trusts in wealth has one confidence only-his wealth. But what happens if he loses his wealth? He has absolutely nothing left to trust. One cannot serve both God and mammon. It is an impossibility. One who tries to do so will hate the one and love the other. An attempt to serve both is precarious, eventually leading to spiritual destruction. An orientation to seek, get, and acquire, at the expense of obedience to God, is serving mammon. This is a sin. A proper attitude of moderation toward physical acquisitions is certainly not wrong, but an attitude of avarice is.
Jesus went on to say there need be no anxious, worried concern for the physical amenities of this life.
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought [anxious, worried concern for your life], what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (Matt. 6:25-31).
God promises to take care of those who are His-those who are diligent, enterprising, and industrious. And those who are righteous. “He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil; He shall dwell on high: his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks: bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure” (Isa. 33:15-16).
Those who are obsessed with the physical amenities of this life, Jesus likened to Gentiles-people who live for physical things only. “(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Matt. 6:32-34).
There is a huge difference between anxious, worried concern and the normal concern for our daily needs. This unbalanced obsession is what Jesus warned about. One who seriously seeks the Kingdom of God and His righteousness will be taken care of, God promises. Can we have faith in God’s promises and the teachings of Jesus in this matter?
In His model prayer Jesus commented on the matter of forgiving others. In Matthew 7:1 He added, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” He emphasized how important it is not to “judge” others. Those who are busy judging others find little time to be forgiving. What did Jesus mean by judging? We have to judge all kinds of things continually-matters which require decisions, choices, determining right and wrong, etc. So, what did Jesus mean? The Greek word for “judging” means “to condemn.” This we are not to do. God is the Judge. He is the One who will pass sentence upon all men. Furthermore, we ourselves will be judged according to how we have judged others.
For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote [splinter] that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye (Matt. 7:2-5).
Jesus is talking about people who go about in a sense of smug self-righteousness, condemning others. Usually, such view a small sin or fault (a mote) in their brother’s eye but fail to see the “beam”-huge plank-in their own eye. This is pure hypocrisy. It is one of the basic flaws of human nature. First, Jesus said to clean up your own life, and then you will be in a position to help others. In the matter of judging, though, we do have to discriminate who is worthy to be a recipient of God’s precious truth. The spiritual things of God should not be shared with those who have no appreciation for them. “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” (Matt. 7:6). To make a judgment or decision in such a matter is appropriate, but at the same time it should not be condemnatory.
When asking things of God, Jesus said ask with a positive attitude. Once one has determined his request is according to God’s will (Eph. 5:17), there should be no doubt. One should ask of God, then, expect an answer.
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? (Matt. 7:7-11).
God is much more gracious and liberal than even an earthly father, so ask God with confidence, Jesus said. And to exemplify and reflect this graciousness in our own lives Jesus said we should practice the golden rule. “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12). In other words, treat others the same way you would like to be treated.
Personal sacrifice is required to enter the Kingdom of God. Nothing of value is gained without effort. So, Jesus said, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:13-14). True Christianity is not an easy road. There is a vast difference between those who profess Christianity and those who practice it. This is why Jesus gave this admonition. Many have given their lives for their beliefs in Christ. This is the price some may have to pay, but the reward shall be well worth it in the end.
There is much deception in religion today. Jesus knew deception was coming. This is why He mentioned it in the Sermon on the Mount. He warned,
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them (Matt. 7:15-20).
False religions and false prophets are known by what they produce, so do not be deceived by appearance, Jesus said. He warned not to be misled by what people say, but look at their fruits. Then, He went on:
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Matt. 7:21-23).
Those who profess Christianity but fail to put it to practice will be rejected.
Then, in closing the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned that we must take what He said seriously.
Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it (Matt. 7:24-27).
The people who heard Jesus speak in the Sermon on the Mount were astonished by His doctrine (v. 28). Are we? Most importantly, are we going to put it to practice in our lives? The Sermon on the Mount is the heart and core of Christianity. It is easy for many people to agree with what Jesus said, that it is right and makes sense, but how easy is it to practice? That decision rests with each of us.