Sermon on the Mount I

Dallas Willard Part 23 of 34

In 1993 Dallas began teaching an intensive two-week residential course for Fuller Theological Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry program. His task was to teach about spiritual life in a systematic way so that its full connection to the work of the minister was clear. These sessions from 2012 are from Dallas’s last year of teaching the course before he died. Though a bulk of the course was usually centered on the nature and practice of disciplines, the beginning of the course dealt with more theological themes like the nature of spiritual reality and the end of the course dealt with topics in spirituality like vocational issues. [Editor’s Note: We know that the class was taped on other occasions and would be glad to find these recordings.]


Okay, I think we are about here and we will need to move right along and we are looking at The Sermon on the Mount. [0:28] I am introducing you to this as Jesus’ answer to the questions (on board) and I hope that you will be able to think of this as if He were doing this in a very self-conscious way and He knew exactly what He was doing. So, when He presents the material, you can think about it as if it were a well thought out discourse very carefully prepared—not an odd collection of sayings which is how it is often though of so you need to—it’s actually a wonderful thing if you could get someone to preach it to you and start out hearing it and go from beginning to end all together. The continuity of a text is always absolutely vital to its meaning and if you just jump on this like you jump on The Beatitudes and now you are going to preach something about that, you are pretty certainly going to miss the whole point. [1:55] So, now, we have talked about The Beatitudes and we are not going to go back to those unless you want to spend time there but I want you to see that now as a part of a unified presentation in answer to these questions and the Reality question comes up over and over—it comes up in Exodus 3 that we have talked about when Moses asked for whoever this is—their name—and he gets I AM THAT I AM. Well, that’s a “being” answer—that’s a reality question and a reality answer and the first two of The Ten Commandments especially are also reality questions. “You shall have no other God’s before me.” Well, why? There aren’t any other Gods before Him and then, what is God like? Well, God is not like anything that you can adequately present by an image. You cannot have an image of God. Now, then, when Jesus comes and through the living personality of Jesus—the nature of God is communicated but God doesn’t look like Jesus. If you have seen Him, you have seen the Father but you didn’t see Him as an image. You saw Him in action as John 14 very carefully spells out. [3:38] “Philip, don’t you believe that I am in God and God in me? The words that I speak to you, I don’t speak on my own. It is the Father in Me that does the work.” Very interesting! It’s work that comes through the words and so this is an important part of The Sermon on the Mount. “Repent for the Kingdom of the Heavens is at hand.” That’s a reality claim. What is available to you?—the Kingdom of the Heavens. What is the Kingdom of the Heavens? It is God in action. Now, you move on to the opening of the fifth chapter in Matthew and you get the “blesseds” and the “blesseds” are answers to the second question; Who is really well off?—And the point of The Beatitudes and the “Woe be’s” is to invert the ranking of blessedness and cursedness that comes out of the human system and replace it with an order that is based on the Kingdom system. Okay? [4:54]


Now, this was shocking to the hearers as it is today when people get the point. Most people don’t get the point because they think The Beatitudes and the “Woe be’s” are telling you something to do and everyone is ready to hear something to do. “Oh, do this, do that, do the other.” They are not “do this stuff.” They are announcements of who is and who is not blessed. The Beatitudes are proclamation of the Kingdom of God. They don’t tell you to DO anything. Now, you might decide to do something if you got the message but they don’t tell you to do anything. They are answers to the second question. Who is well off? Now, it’s a shocking answer and that is why as Jesus goes along after The Beatitudes, He says, “You are the salt of the earth”—and again, people will jump in here and say He is talking about the disciples—I don’t think so. Certainly, He is talking about the disciples but He is talking about ordinary people and having given the inversion now and announced that you can be blessed no matter what your circumstances are in life—no matter where you rank on the human scale, you can be blessed. Why? Well, because you can live in the Kingdom of God. He goes on to say, “You are the salt of the earth and there is some danger that the salt may become tasteless and that’s a problem and it can be good for nothing because it has lost it’s saltiness.” Now, you understand, I’m sure that salt in that day was not pure salt. [6:49] It was more like a kind of limestone and if you left it out in the rain, it would wash the salt out of it and leave the rest there and then it was good for nothing—I think it was a kind of lime so in another passage, He talks about it being thrown on a manure pile or being used to make a walkway to walk on. We know that sort of thing now also.


Now, verse 14: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Men don’t light a lamp to put it—now, God has lit your life—you ordinary people and He has lit your life so that it might be observable. So, now then here is a first instruction—“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your father who is in the Heavens.” That culminates this first section. [8:06]


Then, you get a break. Because of what He had said, these people thought that He was turning the law upside down; that He was calling for a revolution and so He now says in verse 17: “Do not think.”—right and well, you know, you say that when people are thinking. And you say, “Oh no, don’t think that; don’t think that.” “Don’t think that I am come to destroy the law; I am come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.” See, now that was because they thought that what He had said was so contrary to the human order especially as exemplified in their religion and they identified that human order with the Law in the Prophets and because they identified that with the law in the Prophets, they thought, “well, He must be come to destroy the Law and the Prophets.” “No,” He says, “That’s not it. I have come to fulfill them—to bring them to their fulfillment in life as it is meant to be.” So, He goes on to really bare down on that and to insist upon the sanctity of the law and upon the importance of teaching it. Okay? [9:35]


So, now you have that fulfilling the Law in several other points in the New Testament—one of the most important is in Romans 8 and here He is talking about the incapacity of the Law to achieve its end. In Romans 8:3 “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh,” so the Law is good but it does not have the power to carry through with what it says because its demands are on the natural abilities of human beings—that’s called the flesh. [10:34] But now, God did what the law could not do by “sending His own son in the likeness of sinful flesh” and because of what sin is (I think might be a way of reading that; I think it’s an awkward verse)—because of what sin is, He condemned sin in the flesh”—not in Heaven or someplace else. He came right into the flesh and showed sin up for what it was. “In the flesh in order that the requirements of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” or in terms of the Spirit. Now, here people will make a choice. They will say, “Oh yes, that’s positional righteousness”—what the Law required is met by the death of Christ on the cross. The Law required that you pay for your sins and you couldn’t do it so Jesus did it and that’s how He fulfilled the Law here and then I hope you will think of another meaning of fulfilling the Law and that is actually bringing people to the point where they would do the things that the Law said. That’s the fulfilling of the prophetic teaching in Jeremiah and Ezekiel that the “law will be written on the heart.” Now, that means that people will do what the law says as a natural thing to do and Jesus comes now and He fulfills the law.


Now, He says to His hearers, verse 20 is perhaps the most important verse in this passage because now there, it turns to the second point. Who is a really good person? [12:49] Matthew 5:20—Who is a really good person? Not someone who fulfills the Law in the sense of the Pharisee; that is to say, they do what the Law says. That’s not the kind of righteousness that belongs to the Kingdom. The kind of righteousness that goes beyond the righteousness of the—that’s Kingdom righteousness—the righteousness of the Scribe and the Pharisee. Now please—you know, you can throw away everything I say. I’m just rushing along here. Think the thought that there is a different kind of righteousness—goodness if you wish or a different kind of goodness. Adekyasuna (?) is a term that isn’t easy to translate—it gets translated justice and so I think what He is saying is, “the goodness—in order to have life in the Kingdom of God—He’s not talking about going to Heaven when you die, okay—so, try to keep that in mind. He’s talking about living in the Kingdom of God. He says if you want to live in the Kingdom of God, you’ve got to have a different kind of righteousness than the Scribe and the Pharisees. Righteousness of the Scribe and the Pharisee is DOING what the Law says. [14:31] Now, you can’t do that and that is the open position of the New Testament—you can’t do it—IF you just try to do that. On the other hand, if you go beyond that now and you establish a living connection with the action of God in grace living interactively with Him and you can do that if you don’t stick at the righteousness of the Scribe and the Pharisee. If you stick at that, you will never make it into interactive graceful relationship with the Kingdom. If you want to enter the Kingdom; that is, enter into interactive graceful relationship with the Kingdom, then you have to get beyond the righteousness of the Scribe and the Pharisee. Now, He doesn’t define that here. He illustrates it and the illustration is primarily illustrating what lies beyond doing the thing that the Law says is right or not doing what it says is wrong to a different level of personality and we will want to illustrate that as carefully as we can with His first teaching here at verse 21 and up through 26. Okay? So, let me try to lead you through this and if you can pick up on it and certainly question and that’s great. [16:14]


So, here’s the righteousness of the Scribe and the Pharisee—don’t murder and now, if you don’t murder, then you are righteous at that level and so now He is going to say the old law or you have heard it said, “the ancient said you shall not commit murder and whoever commits murder will be liable to the court,” but I say to you—so now then, what He is doing here is He is moving beyond the righteousness of the Scribe and the Pharisee when He says that, “I say to you.” “Everyone who is angry with his brother—and if you like the easier version, you can say, ‘without a cause,’ shall be guilty before the court and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Rakka, shall be guilty before the Supreme court and whoever shall say, ‘You fool, shall be guilty enough to go into Gahenah’—the fires of hell.” Now, what do you see when you see that shift? Whoever is angry with his brother—[the shift from action to intent?]—action to intent or attitude—attitude. [18:00] So, when you are angry with your brother without a cause, if you wish; it makes it a little different but the basic idea is the same. Whoever is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court? And that’s like the lowest level of judgment in the legal system that He is talking about—the court. Then you have the Supreme Court the next time and then the next time, its just hell. Just get to it! But, what you need to think about is the progression here. When you are angry with someone, you are willing to see them injured and you may be on the way to injuring them. That is what anger is. It is a willingness or even the intent for harm and you can’t pull out of anger. That’s why, for example when you feel someone is angry with you, you already feel hurt. Isn’t that true? And the reason you feel hurt is because you know that anger has in it the element of injury. Now, maybe they won’t do it for whatever reason but, for example they would not be sad to see you hurt if they are angry. And, of course, hurting is very close to anger and so anger leads to injury very commonly and so now, Jesus is talking about the root of murder—not murder—the root of murder in anger and He is saying, “You know, lay it aside. Don’t take it up.” Now, I don’t think He is saying here that anger is sin but remember not everything that is not a sin is good and in the passage you are memorizing, as I recall, one of the things that Paul says is, “Lay aside anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy and so on.” There are a lot of hurtful things there—a similar list in Ephesians 4. He said, “Lay these aside.” Now, that presents many people with a real issue. [21:10] Of course, looking at some of the teachings about anger in the Bible, you get the impression that it is really not a good thing and the book of Ecclesiastes, for example says, “Anger is found in the bosom of fools.” Now, that doesn’t necessarily say that if you are angry, you are a fool; it just says that “if you want to find anger, find a fool.” Well, then, you will find a lot of it. So, now we have a lot of teaching about anger in the Bible. James’ statement, “the wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God.” And it’s very tricky because anger always presents itself as justified—at least for the moment. So, Jonah is mad because a worm has eaten his little vine and God says to him, “Do you do well to be angry?” and he says, “I do well to be angry.” You know, you hear people talk about righteous indignation; I don’t think I’ve ever seen any unrighteous indignation. It’s all righteousness—for a while—and thank goodness for many people, that righteousness passes pretty quickly. Often, not soon enough to prevent them from doing some pretty awful things. [22:54]


So, now this is something different from murder, isn’t it? And He is illustrating what it is like to go beyond the righteousness of the Scribe and the Pharisee. You don’t go to anger. Don’t be contemptuous because in this passage, Jesus mingles contempt and anger. It’s a very important sort of thing to pay attention to because contempt and anger are not the same thing but they are closely related. It is much easier to be angry with a person for whom you have contempt and if you are angry with someone, it will probably break out into contempt if you ever listen to a family quarrel. It starts with anger but almost never stays out of contempt and that is usually manifested by the language that begins to get used, you see. So, contempt is really dangerous stuff and Jesus is saying, “You know, you don’t need that. You can live without contempt.” And that would be a great accomplishment, I think and you can think of how much it would do for human life if contempt were eliminated. Now you can see, He is pulling you onto a different ground here. Now you are going to live without contempt in the Kingdom of God and of course, if you are doing that, probably, it will be because you are interacting with God and His Kingdom and that will put other people in a different light and among other things, you will be able to see them as spiritual beings that God loves and so if they happen to be different in their shape or color or habits or whatever, you will see through that and you will see the person and then that will provide a different basis for working.


And He has one more move here. [25:23] He is not done yet. He is just driving it home. Rakka is, in verse 22, basically a term for contempt and then “you fool.” Now, I am sure you all know that “fool” in Biblical language is a very serious word. It isn’t like we today tend to use “fool” for someone who’s kind of goofy or unable to hold their projects together and are choosing means that aren’t adequate to their ends and so forth and so on but “fool” in Biblical language refers to a purposively wicked person. So, when the Psalm says, “the fool has said in his heart, ‘there is no God’” He is not commenting on an intellectual mistake. He is commenting on someone with a set of life and so when Jesus moves to the third level here, right? We’ve had anger or hatred or wrath—one level; second level—contempt; Rakka—third level—you fool! This is getting serious and this time he says, “Man, that’s—you are going to wind up in Gahenah.” Right? So, now, I don’t want you to lose the point here. We are not quite to the point yet but the point so far is that the Kingdom righteousness has to do with the range of attitudes towards people and in the first instance with negative attitudes. Now people who are used to using anger and wrath as a sort of a piece of artillery that they have in their repertoire will find this difficult to drop because they think of these kinds of words as tools or instruments that are used on people to get them to do things or not to do things. [28:02] The question will arise, “Well, how can I change my vocabulary and still manage to get along? How can I do that?” So, now to sort of move over to a theme—we have to teach them how to do that. They have to be taught and none of this can be done just by a decision. People have to be trained.  So, if you are going to negotiate your way through the world, you are going to have to have a different vocabulary and a lot of that is a difference of tone. See, people respond to body language more than just to the content of what is said. It is the emotion that comes out of the body of a person who is angry that really makes an impact. Now, unfortunately, a part of that impact is usually anger back at you. What do we say?—“Right back at you.” And condemnation and anger and contempt always breed, “right back at you.” So, if you want to stay out of the “right back at you,” and it’s important to find a different way of thinking and talking and many people say, “Is that really possible?” Is it really possible to stand up for what is right without being angry? Hmmm? Can you do that?  Especially in our context today where we have lived through generations of justice issues which nearly always have involved anger? [30:20] We may not know how you can do it any other way. So now, we are all the way back to where we started. We are going to teach people to do everything that Jesus said. How are you going to teach them this? How are you going to teach them NOT to operate in anger and contempt and so on? Well, if you don’t teach them, they won’t do it, I’ll tell you that; and even if you try to teach them, my experience is that people really resist this. They really resist it because they are tied to the righteousness of anger and so you have to talk to them about, for example, that you can do everything without anger and you can do it better than you can do it with anger. You can do it better. The first time you say that, well, people don’t believe it and that’s partly due to how they have found things to go in their life. Jane, my wife, is always very careful with me when I am talking about this sort of thing because she knows that often anger has proven to be something that kind of blew the situation open so that genuine change could happen and I certainly don’t try to argue with that and I think it is a fact.  I’ve always followed the principle that if you’ve got a place where a husband is beating up a wife, the wife should call the police and in general, I think domestic abuse is like that. Now, you’re bound to find some exceptions; I understand, that’s how life is but in general, you have to take action. Now, if you have to get mad in order to call the police, well, you better do what you have to do. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way. That means that right now, it’s not available for whatever reason and so you have to take the way that is available to you and it is not helpful to just let the beating go on. That is not helpful to the person who is doing the beating or to the beatee. It’s bad; not good. If you have to get mad to do it, okay. And, strictly speaking in this passage, Jesus does not say anger is bad. He is saying that we need to get beyond it somehow, that we need to understand that there is a kind of righteousness that dispenses with it and anger is a lot like pain, it means something is wrong and something should be done. It’s still true that it’s better if you can do it without it but in this world maybe you can’t and so now actually, this opens up a lot of things in The Sermon—things about turning the other cheek and so on and if we have time, we will try to talk about some of those but right now, I am just illustrating what’s beyond the righteousness of the Scribe and the Pharisee and so He goes on. [34:15] Look at this, verse 23; “Therefore”—now the “therefore” is referring to this change of attitude—“therefore, if you are presenting your offering at the altar”—now this is a solemn, religious occasion, you understand—“and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar”—now, that was unheard of. The only legitimate reason for interrupting a ritual, a temple process like this was some sort of ritual failing. You found the lamb was unclean or something like that, you know and so now, you stop. No mere moral reason would justify breaking up the temple ritual. The ritual in religion triumphs the moral and if you go back and you read your Prophets, you will see that there is always an attempt to reverse that and to say that the ritual never surpasses the moral. The moral always surpasses the ritual. That theme is developed over and over again and Jesus is doing that here. He is saying, “Look, if you come to do your thing and you realize that there is an issue between you and a brother, then go and become reconciled to him and then come back and present your offering. Now, again, you shouldn’t think of this as establishing another law. What it is doing is correcting the heart; that is, your attitude toward your brother so far from murdering him should be one that is so sensitive that you don’t want to wait to straighten out something between you and your brother. Don’t wait! Go do it NOW! [36:34]


And then the final blow—this is a lawsuit and you think about people walking into court together. You may have had the misfortune to see that or even be a part of it. Look what He says in verse 25: “Make friends quickly with your opponent at the law while you are on the way with him in order that your opponent may not deliver you to the judge”—in other words, there is a system there and you may be about to step into it. Don’t go there. Don’t adopt that system. There is a system there and your opponent may deliver you to the judge and then you are locked in and the judge may deliver you to the officer and you will be thrown into prison and truly I say to you, “You shall not come out of there until you have paid the last cent.” That’s a system that will grind it out of you. [37:47] Don’t get into that system if you can keep from it and the way you keep from it is you work out the case before you get to the court. Now, it’s not saying, “Don’t go to court.” It’s telling you how to go to court. You go to court in a relationship to your brother that does not involve anger and hatred, malice, contempt—let’s try to capture this as well as possible. I mean, you are being friendly with your adversary and you are saying, “Now, what would we need to do to settle this?” And, you might be hearing something you didn’t want to hear and Jesus is not saying, “Well, give in—whatever he said.” He is not saying that. He is saying to make a good faith effort to love your brother as you go to court and see if a way can be found and perhaps you may give up more than you want to but you are probably going to give up more if you go through the court system. Right?


Now, I met a man in South Africa who is a businessman and he would not do business with Christians because he said, “I can’t sue them.” Now, he had read this and said, “This says I can’t sue people.” No, it doesn’t say you can’t sue people. It says how to sue people. Right? In general, that’s the kind of teaching He is giving. Now, we could spend all afternoon on this passage alone. What is more important if possible is that I can communicate to you the difference between the righteousness of the Scribe and the Pharisee and Kingdom righteousness. This is about Kingdom righteousness and of course it’s about not just not killing your brother, it’s actually talking about active love. How does active love act in relationship to your brother? Well, it doesn’t call him a fool. It is at least not dominated by anger. It doesn’t pour contempt on him. It tries to straighten out any difficulties as quickly as possible and even in legal processes continues to seek what is best, to act out of love, and to carry forward with the kind of love that Jesus understands is a part of Kingdom living. [40:53]


Okay now, I think we need to see if you have some questions and comments about this. That’s a long discussion and so let’s try to deal with that and then and maybe the other things we can go a little faster.


Q: Do you think anger comes from how a person is brought up?


A: Absolutely, that’s right and so that gives us an occasion to back up a little bit and talk about what anger is again. I said that anger is an intent to harm of some degree but where does that come from? It comes from having your will crossed. Anger always arises out of having your will crossed and it actually doesn’t matter that much how trivial the incident is. Now, depending on your general attitude, an event that might make one person angry does not make another person angry but that’s because they have achieved some reconciliation of their will with their life. Of course, the ultimate reconciliation is to say, “God is in charge of my life. My will is not crossed because I have resigned it to God.” Now, if you don’t have that, well then, you can get into a condition of constant anger so that almost everything that happens and you will—you know, when you read descriptions of what goes on in families or churches and so on and you hear people talking about always “walking on eggshells” and things of that sort, you are in the presence of an angry person.  So, now you know that anything you do might cause them to blow up. We have a description of the man who rules his house with an iron lung—so, he’s always shouting or screaming. Hmm? [Or an iron stare?] Oh, yes; daggers! See, that’s an excellent point, Ginger and that’s—see, we want to get out of that and we can. [43:13]


Q: What is the best way to discipline anger?


A: One of the best disciplines to help with this problem is service because in service you practice abandoning your will but there are other things and actually, service alone could be pretty dangerous so you want to use whatever resources you have to get a picture of God being in charge of your life and of course, there are ways of surrendering your life to God and you need to practice those and here, that gets back to vision and so our teaching about the gospel and the Scripture—what is God like? Can I really count on God to guard my back—believe that He is in charge? And then out of that you come to things like “all things work together for good.” [44:24] Well, so if someone got my parking place, maybe it’s not so bad after all. Now, here in California, of course we shoot people for taking our parking place. That actually happens. Now, but or course if you haven’t come to a place where you really can trust God, you have to be in the center; there isn’t anyone else left. Well, the only other option is to surrender your will to some other person, which is not a good thing. So, that’s the teaching that goes into this.


Now, the way that would be done, for example, in the local church is you would teach on this; hopefully, your pulpit would enlarge on this and then at some appropriate point, you would say, “Now, do we have six or eight people here who would like to be rid of anger?” And, probably with some hesitation, you might have a group and so you say, “Now, we are going to meet on Thursday evenings for the next eight weeks for a seminar on how to get rid of anger.” And, so then, the first stage of that kind of training is to get them to observe anger and actually sometimes, that’s enough to cure people—they see what a stupid thing it can be but you have them watch it—on the freeway, in the office, at a school meeting or whatever—watch, and have them see, where does anger come from? You can spend a week or two on that and you would have them observe and then you have them come back and talk about what they have observed.  The object here is to help them understand what anger is and how it works. That’s always a preliminary stage in teaching people how to do the things that Jesus said because truthfully anger and so on, how that works in life, is it just blind sides you and you think it’s on top of you before you’ve had time to think about it. If you live in a certain way, that’s the way it works but then you don’t have to live that way. You can identify how it jumps on people and also how, for example, it can be like a storm ready to break and at a certain point—Pow! It breaks! You learn to see that sometimes it was there before the incident and usually some element of it frankly is always there. [47:25] So, you would be in that. Then, you would help the people understand the sources of anger in the person—what it is, how it works, the sources and that’s where you want to go to work because with reference to all of the teachings of Jesus, you go to the sources and you change the sources and that changes the action.  So, then after you have identified the sources, you need a couple weeks to talk about that. In this process, you will want to not just observe anger in others but observe it in yourself. When did you last get mad? And, where did that come from? That came from something in you. What was it? So, the next stage then is you identify those and you start trying to change them and that might be scriptural instruction, personal stories—you simply look for whatever it is that identifies those sources. Then your final stage is to change the sources. And, again, that will depend somewhat on the individuals but once you identify the sources, then you can begin to change them. That general pattern is perfectly general. You stop treating the event as if it were just out of the blue. Try to understand the event. Try to understand what it’s sources are and then, how can you change those sources? Now, of course, this is empirical, kind of ragged; you have to be wiling to be open minded and learn as you go but, you know, if you do this for a few things, it’s going to change your whole life. [49:35]


So, you have a person who is troubled by pornography and so on, you do the same thing—same sort of process. What is that? And again, in my experience, many people, all you have to do is get them to look at something and they are sick of it but in any case, but in many cases you can’t so then you say, “Why does anyone do that?” What are the sources of the behavior? And, how can we change those? Now, if you are just an individual, it’s a pretty hard road but if you have people who are working on it in groups, actually, it isn’t hard. You still have decisions to make and people can turn around and say, “Well, you know, I just really like pornography. I’m going to stay with it. It enriches my life.” So, it isn’t automatic but there is a way of learning that enables us to look at something like the teachings of Jesus here and say, “You know, I really want to live beyond the righteousness of the Scribes and the Pharisees” and then that can apply to the other things that Jesus talks about here and we do want to talk a little bit about the general picture here. I think the main way to go here is to take one thing and look at it until we get the idea. Are there other questions or comments just about the one thing? [51:17]


Q: What do we do with anger when it is around us?


A: We need to say loudly and clearly the response is not to deny anger or suppress it. You don’t deny it and you don’t suppress it. If it is there, you accept it and then you can work with it especially if you have someone who is well trained to help you with it but the way this presentation of anger in Christianity is often done, it is made to be seen as something you should be ashamed of and you should deny it and suppress it and just not deal with it but that is not what you want. You want to come to the place to where you are not angry. Depending on the case, a first major part of that is “owning” your anger and that is absolutely crucial. One of the problems with teaching that anger is just wrong is that people will not own it. I would imagine this is a case with this person and very often, our family’s breed that kind of circumstance where children are made to suppress their anger or deny their anger and not own it and they are not allowed to be angry. That’s a very important part of learning to trust the provision of God is that He is capable of handling our anger as well. We don’t hide it from Him. We bring it out and one of the great things about the Psalms is that they don’t hide the anger and they can help us express it. [53:12]


Q: Do you think it is wrong to hold onto wrath as a type of anger?


A: Hmmm…well, it really, I’m sure means that we are not going to be able to lay down some rules and if you were to lay down a rule about anger, you would wind up back with the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees in most likelihood but anger is a problem and so this passage in Ephesians 4, which I am sure you know, “Be angry and yet do not sin.”—Now, some people take that as a command to be angry interestingly enough—“yet, do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.”—And completes that sentence in the next verse, verse 27 of chapter 4, “Do not give the devil an opportunity” and that is one of the things that you can be pretty sure of is if you hang on to anger, you are going to give the devil an opportunity and he will get in there and mix it up and usually the anger multiplies and spreads until someone simply stops. [54:27]


Comment from Jan Johnson: The first time that I heard you teach on this, you pictured verse 25 and you said, “It’s as if you go to this person and you say, ‘What do you need from me?’” Well, I found that terrifying but eventually very helpful because if I could ask the Spirit to help me move there, then I was having compassion on the person which seemed to be the ante dote to the anger and I am connecting dots here today because then you talked about service as the helpful discipline and service is about compassion and then I thought about what Carol said about moving myself out of the center and service and compassion also do that so I just thought all of that was very interesting to think of compassion….. [55:17]


D: Well, I think that’s the heart He is talking about here. [Yeah] And, so when you go to court with someone, you don’t forget to have compassion upon them; right? That sort of changes the whole configuration of the event and back to anger and contempt of course. It is very difficult to have contempt for a person upon whom you have compassion—very difficult, so that’s a part, I think, of what would go into moving into the righteousness of the Kingdom on this point. Okay; how did we do? Could you teach this?  Could you go home and start a small group and say we are going to look at what Jesus says about anger and contempt and we are going to have a seminar for six or eight weeks, at the end of which you will be in charge or free of this kind of behavior. OK? [56:25]


So, now, if we don’t approach the teachings from The Sermon on the Mount on that basis, we are just dead. You have to approach it in terms of being taught and of course, that fits in with the idea of teaching people to do “all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”


So, Jesus starts with an illustration here—murder and then He moves on to adultery. Now, we’ve already talked some about that so I won’t spend long on it just to say here too—if you wish to have freedom from the lascivious look, you have to want it and you have to go through a process of re-thinking in which you don’t have the thoughts that lead up to that sort of thing. There was a little email exchange that I gave with someone after the discussion of chastity because here we have someone who was being troubled, by not just the lascivious look but various aspects of sexuality and I tried to suggest to him that what you do is, if you are troubled with something like this, then you try to find out where it comes from and there were very interesting things in his letter; namely, that he was most troubled about this usually on Sunday night or Monday. He is a preacher and now, you think about that and how that works and you identify the sources of it and probably the sources of it were in some kind of frustration or exhaustion that came out of his work as a pastor and the release that came after Sunday was over. So, however this manifests itself, you have to do that same process. Where does this come from? What is it and where does it come from? [58:39]


With reference to looking to lust, to cultivating lust, which is what the passage in Matthew 5 is about. Well, why does one do that? Now, pornography is only one dimension of that but the problem is the same however it manifests itself. What do I get out of this and why do I need it? So, then, once you identify that, then you can try to change it and with reference to looking to lust, the main thing that has to be changed is how you see people—how you see yourself, your body and what this has to do with the accessing of pleasure—usually as a kind of relief of some sort. So, you go into the dynamics of that and find other ways of dealing with the problem. Plan for the times that it is a special problem, like this fellow and have something to do otherwise than get lost in sexual fantasy. Sexual fantasy is—children learn very early, accessible, pleasure, accessible and they find that they can use their bodies in ways that bring them pleasure and as we grow up, then we need to find ways of fulfilling our desire for pleasure or need and we find ways of having that or ways that are not harmful and wrong.


So, did I hand out a thing on pornography as a case of spiritual formation or it’s up here? [1:00:38] It’s really important to understand that a person who is involved in that or in looking to lust or whatever the particular manifestation is, they are doing that because of how they have been formed spiritually and you have to change the formation. They have learned to engage their will with their bodies and with other people on the basis of ideas that they have about themselves so that’s what you have to focus on changing. Now, many people think this is impossible. I remember once in Baltimore, I was talking about this and a young man on the front row said, “NO!” He meant by that, you can’t do this. Well, of course, you think about how you might stop someone by putting a gun to their head or something and then you see, well, I could change depending on the circumstances but you can’t hire someone to carry a gun around and keep it aimed at your head. That would probably do it. [Laughter] You have to go to the inside—to the inside of the person and that always means, how do I direct my mind? Why do I direct my mind that way? What can I do to recognize when this is happening and stop it? When you are moving into something that is wrong, the key is to recognize it before it gets there and to take steps to undermine the thought or the temptation before it takes on enough power to drag you in to the deed that you don’t want to do. [1:02:45]


Well, I want to just move a little faster here looking at “c” on your handout there. The person is free of the desire to dominate or control verbally. And, that is in the passage, this is put in terms of swearing but swearing is not “cussing” in this passage. Swearing is swearing by something and the teaching here is that you shouldn’t swear. The Old Law says, “If you swear, do it.” That’s the old law and Jesus says, “Don’t swear.” As you know, James picks that up in his letter and really comes down on swearing but what is the problem here? What is the issue of swearing?—and, is it always formal invocation of something to back up what you say? So, let me try to just address this simply and see what you think. The issue here is manipulation. You are manipulating other people to believe or do something they don’t particularly want to do or understand and so you invoke something grand and great. Jerusalem is mentioned in the passage or your head. Don’t swear by your head because you don’t have power over that. So, in other words, you are invoking a bunch of stuff that you have no control over. What He is saying is, “Don’t do that.” When you are talking with someone, don’t try to manipulate them into something. Just say, “It’s this way or it’s this way.”—plain speaking; simple speaking; just saying how things are or how they are not and as Jesus says, “If you do more than this, it comes from something evil.” What evil is it coming from? I suggest it is the will to manipulate people and we can do a lot of that around churches where we are trying to impress people or get them to do things or to believe things that they shouldn’t do that. [1:05:32]


Now, I think that this is quite a large part of our problems and with this list, Jesus sort of starts at the street level. You will notice, He doesn’t start with, “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” or with “love your neighbor as yourself.” He starts with where the action is—on the street—murder, hatred, contempt, lusting, and His aim is to stop the parts that are most common in human life and certainly one of the most common of these is the will to manipulate others and in some quarters, we just called that, “advertising” today—motivational research or something. And, the counsel here is “just don’t do it.” “Let your yes be a yes and your no be a no” and don’t go in for spin doctors who know how to say “yes’s” that are “no’s” and “no’s” that are “yes’s.” Plain speaking is what is spoken of here. [1:06:47]


Now, there are a number of other things here I’ll just mention quickly—free from grudges, issues of fairness and paying back so He lists a number of things on verse 38 and 42 about that and again, this is a part of the street life of families and children learn to pick up on these very fast. “That is not fair” and “I am going to get him back” and keeping grudges, “Well, you didn’t let me play with your toys” but then, unfortunately, that goes on up the age scale to people who are supposed to be adults. And now, Jesus is showing you what happens when people’s hearts are transformed into Kingdom righteousness, Kingdom presence and activity that goes with eternal life and the last thing that He mentions here in the 5th chapter is “loving your enemies, and blessing those who curse you and praying for those who despitefully use you” and so on. That culminates in the idea of “being perfect as Your Father in Heaven is perfect.” I think the word there refers to being fully mature for where you are; it doesn’t refer to having achieved perfection in the character of God and certainly not perfection in the sense of never doing anything wrong by the Pharisaical standard. It’s referring to being mature, grown up, really responsible, I guess is a good way of putting it also. But don’t retreat now at that point to Pharisaical righteousness. We are still talking about being perfect in the righteousness of the Kingdom. Wesley’s idea of perfection in love and Calvin’s idea of Holiness fits in here—you grow into this. You cultivate it. You learn how to do the things that are required and you are set to carry them out. That’s a part of your intention and your orientation in life. So, you see, that’s where you are. This goes with Philippians 3 where Paul says, “As many as would be perfect, be thus minded.” What was the “thus minded?” Pressing on—reaching for the prize of the high calling in Christ Jesus—that posture I think is what Jesus is talking about here when He talks about being perfect as Your Father in Heaven is perfect.” Specifically, He is talking about God allowing His reign and His Son to come on the just and on the unjust and teaching us to have a similar posture in our world. That is to say, looking at people in terms of how mercy and love could be carried out with reference to them and not basing it on judgments of who is righteous? Now, there is place for considering that but in our general relationships, as Jesus is laying them out in Matthew 5, this is not the place. You allow your grace and your mercy to fall on people indifferently of whether they are worthy or not. You do it in terms of their needs and the possibility of blessing them: not in terms of judgments about their righteousness or unrighteousness.  [1:11:08]


Now, just quickly, you have a few more divisions here. The division in chapter 6:1-18 we looked at briefly—the heart of the Kingdom does not perform for human credit. It doesn’t perform for human credit. It doesn’t try to get approval or applause and that is a part of learning to stand before God in the blessedness of His Kingdom.


Next to last—does not trust in physical substances and this is a long passage where He is talking about money and trusting in money and conversely, not worrying because the provision of God is there and the flowers and the birds get cited in that passage. [1:12:08]


And now the very last thing that is mentioned is what I call “condemnation engineering” and that’s where Jesus is saying this often misunderstood statement, “Judge not that you be not judged.” That’s often pulled on people today to say that they should not discern between what is good and evil. Right? But, He is not talking about that at all; He is talking about condemning. Don’t condemn. Discern and to go back to our earlier discussion today about sexuality, if you say things that are wrong, people may not like you for it and say you are condemning them because you say that what they are dong is wrong but you don’t have to condemn people to discern and that’s really important for us to study because as Christians, especially as teachers, and pastors, and writers and so on, we are going to discern. If we don’t, what we are going to do will be worthless. So, discernment is absolutely essential to life in the Kingdom of God if you can’t tell the difference between good and evil. Now, in order to control that, people will say you are condemning. If you say that this is not good or this is wrong, you are condemning. Well, you could but condemning has the additional element of distancing—of pushing away, of saying you are worthless and that sort of thing. We don’t have to do that to discern. That’s really important but it is also important to realize how people will try to use confusion on this so that if you discern, they will say, “Well, you are condemning.” What used to be a common place—“hate the sin and love the sinner” now often is simply rejected because people don’t have enough of a “self” to identify apart from their “sin” for there to be anything left and if you reject what they are doing wrong, they can only think in terms of, “Well, you are rejecting me.” But, that is a manipulative device on their part to control what you say. [1:14:55]


So, now we have this whole category in law of “hate speech.” It’s a curious mixture because obviously hate is not a good thing but the idea that if you don’t think something is good and that it is wrong, you hate the person that is engaged in it is again just a confusion that we have to be able to set out and identify and talk about and help people understand and in some cases where they don’t want to understand, we just have to accept that. [1:15:31]


Q: Could you explain more about the Pharisees and the anger of Jesus toward them?


A: Well, see I think that this is—Jesus doesn’t really do this except to people who are supposed to be leaders and on them He comes down hard and He is there in a situation teaching and He has people around Him—a line of lawyers and Scribes and Pharisees and so He gets into a discussion and then He really tells them off. Luke, top of 41 and following—oh, verse 46; “Woe to you lawyers”—experts in the law—“you weigh men down with burdens.” You see, He’s really coming down on people who, as He says in Matthew—“sit in Moses’ seat.” He’s coming down on them because they are misleading people. They are hurting people by their behavior. And, so, He spares no blow on them. He condemns them. They are condemned. But, in the middle of it is discernment and discernment is something we cannot forsake but I think in the passage in Matthew 7, we are looking at a situation where people are trying to manage people by their condemnations and He is saying—and that’s a very common human trait—it happens in families and so on—and He is saying, “Don’t do that. Don’t try to manage people by condemning them.” That’s where He goes on to talk about pearls before pigs and Holy things for dogs. That’s where we want to understand that He is not actually calling anyone pigs or dogs, He is simply saying, “No matter how holy what you have is, in your condemnation, people can’t benefit from it.” So, you give a Bible to a dog; it won’t do him any good. Not because there is anything wrong with the dog or wrong with the Bible, they just don’t work together and the same way with feeding of pearls to hogs. He is not saying anyone is a hog but He is referring to the human tendency to take something that is very precious and think it’s going to help people if you just lay it on them and what He is saying is, “Don’t do that.” Find what will help and then He goes on in that passage to talk about prayer in the context both of God and human beings. How do you get people to change? Well, you ask them. You seek. You knock. That’s a personal principle. You don’t try to beat them into submission and think this thing I’ve got here is so holy that it is bound to bring them around. Both in larger societies and in churches and especially in families, you see people making that mistake but no matter how good what you have is, if it is not something that the person can receive and benefit from, it will not do them any good and you will wind up just pounding away at them and that’s where He introduces the principle of prayer as something that works both among human beings and towards God. And, He says, “Ask, seek, knock and you will be given.” We have to come back to prayer tomorrow for sure, but if you are locked into the idea that when He teaches about prayer that He is teaching a mechanism as a distinct from a principle that generally works and that you should rely on, then you will try that and it won’t work and it will beat the faith out of you. Many people pray themselves into agnosticism because they try to make this work as a mechanical principle and it doesn’t. It’s a personal interaction and that idea is something that runs through the entire Sermon.


Okay, let’s try to take a little break and come back in ten or fifteen minutes and we have to finish up a little more here.

Listen to all parts in this Spirituality and Ministry 2012 series