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About this series
Balancing Life's Demands
Biblical Priorities for a Busy Life
Are you busy, tired, stressed out, and stretched to the limit? Does life seem a little out of control? Are you running long on "to do's" and short on time? In the series, Balancing Life's Demands, you will learn how to put "first things first" and find peace in the midst of pressure and adversity. This isn't about cliches or quick fixes, just practical biblical insights to help you order your personal world.More from this series
“You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemies.’ But I tell you, love your enemies” and then listen to this, “pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”
And the idea of sons, especially in Hebrew culture, it has family likeness as the idea. You’ll never be more like your heavenly Father than when you love people who have wounded and hurt and abused and betrayed you.”
And do you see? I mean, He is turning the paradigm of what it means to be an authentic follower of Yahweh completely upside down. This is a righteousness that exceeds the Pharisees, because this righteousness is a matter of the heart. This righteousness requires supernatural help.
Jesus was the most winsome human being on the face of the earth, and His life of love and grace and mercy and truth and strength and courage caused prostitutes and sinners and people to be drawn to Him, like bees to honey, and it caused people who genuinely wanted to know God to see the Father as He really is, and it caused people who were religious and self-righteous and controlling to want to kill Him.
And sometimes I ask myself, If I lived in that day, I wonder which one of those groups I would be in? I tend to read the New Testament like I’m always one of the disciples. Try reading it sometime like you’re one of the Pharisees. My righteousness, your righteousness, must exceed that.
And so, here’s the summary: Jesus condemns external righteousness, spiritual activities, when it does not flow from internal relationship with God. True spirituality is always an issue of the heart. God’s love is never dependent upon your performance. If there’s one thing, if we could be set free, God’s love is not dependent on your performance.
There’s this unconscious, Oh, I feel okay and I’m doing okay, and God loves me, when I perform, perform, perform, and when I don’t.
Now, we’re going to learn in a second our spiritual activities. You’re thinking, Wait a minute, Chip. You just told us – man, you’re giving all these sessions about how important it is and to be disciplined and all this, and now, you’re just messing with my mind, Ingram.
No, no, no. Jesus is. Okay? Everything we’ve talked about so far is absolutely true, absolutely of a necessity. But it’s the difference between doing those things to walk into the house and meet with the person, than to get focused on the driveway. It’s those spiritual activities.
And just a quick FYI, in case it never got clear, because I lived in America, and I went to church, though it be not a good one, I never heard it. So, just let me take two minutes, before we go on. I want to explain, the good news of the gospel is this: God loves you, and there’s no way, no effort, no good work, no means you can ever have to earn His favor, and there is no boulder between you. It’s a chasm that’s impossible to cross.
From the eternity past, in the mind of the Triune God, they predetermined that the Son of God would come to the earth and take on human flesh, being fully Man and fully God. Fully Man, He would have the ability to die. Fully God, He would live a perfect life, and His sacrifice would have infinite value.
And after revealing, by His life and His words and His teaching, the very character of God – truth and grace – it was preordained, from the foundation of the world, that the Son of God would be unjustly accused of many crimes, and He would hang upon a cross. And He would hang upon the cross, not for one single thing that He did, but for the sins of all men, for all time. And as He hung upon that cross, He would be the offering for you and for me, and all the sins of all people of all time would be absorbed by Him. He would become sin, a sin offering on our behalf.
And, because God is holy and God is just, He would, because He can’t see sin, for the first time – and this was the agony – He would take His just wrath and pour it on the Son of God, so there would be separation. And Jesus would receive that, and why He said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” because in that window and moment of time, for the first time in all eternity, your sin and my sin was paid for, completely, by Him.
And He gave His life, and He now offers a gift to every human being on the face of the earth, that is free, for by grace you’re saved through faith. That’s not of yourself; it’s a gift of God, not of works, least any man should boast. And then, three days later, not by a dream, not by a prophet, not by a religion, not by something in the sky, He would rise from the dead, and for over forty days have personal interaction with five hundred eyewitnesses documented. And just to throw a little icing on the cake, God had a number of other people be raised from the dead, and they went around and talked about what was happening. In space/time history.
And the offer and the message of Christianity is not be a nice person, go to church, clean up your morals, and be a little bit kinder and nicer than other people. The message is we are lost in our sin; we’re separated eternally from God. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Me,” Jesus would say, and He makes an offer to you and to every single person: “Whosoever would believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Eternal life isn’t something that happens after you die. It is a quality of life where the chasm is closed; your sin is atoned, or covered, for. You are taken out of this kingdom of darkness, ripped out of it, by faith, through His grace, planted in the kingdom of His beloved Son, in the kingdom of light. The Spirit of God enters your physical body. You’re sealed with the Spirit, He deposited spiritual gifts in you, and His purposes now, is Christ lives His life out through you. That’s the gospel, the righteousness of Christ. And living the Christian life is not hard, and it’s not about trying hard. It’s impossible.
When Paul explains it in the book of Romans, he will tell us the first three chapters is the problem. Chapters 4 and 5 is the solution. Then chapters 6, 7, and 8 are how the supernatural righteousness is achieved. It’s achieved, first, by reckoning that you died with Him; you rose to walk in newness of life, that there’s a battle of the flesh and the spirit – chapter 7 – but, praise God, there’s no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. It’s the Spirit of God that manifests the very life and presence of Jesus inside you. And He lives His life through you, before God, manifesting through your personality and your life, the righteousness and the life and the love of God.
That’s what it means to be a Christian, and that’s what Jesus came for and that’s what He was explaining. Your righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees. And so, He condemns external righteousness if it doesn’t flow from internal relationship with God. So, you got it? Good.
Now, let’s look at the second issue He addresses, because you might say, “Well, wait a second. That’s wonderful – grace, grace, grace, grace, grace, grace. That feels really good. But what about all those teachings we went over about spiritual activities and disciplines? Aren’t we commanded to pray? Aren’t we commanded to give? Aren’t we commanded to fast?” Yes. Jesus’ solution was not to stop spiritual activities, but to ensure that we do them out of grace and relationship, not performance and obligation.
It was that we would do them out of devotion and see them as what they are. They’re just a driveway. They’re just a conduit to get to where you really want to go. Giving, praying, fasting, media fasts, Scripture memory, accountability groups – none of that is the deal! They’re just the driveway to get you where Christ can make His home and have freedom and manifest His life in your heart.
That’s what Paul prays in Ephesians 3, that Christ would take up residence, that He would dwell – and the word dwell there means He would feel comfortable and be at home in you.
And by the way, the whole Christian life, in one word: abide. What do you need to abide? I don’t know. I mean, Scripture gives us some basics, but whatever you need to stay connected to Jesus, just stay connected to Jesus, and let His life flow through you. I mean, if you really want to get it simple. And what we know is that there are certain practices that help us abide. They’re not an end in themselves; they help us abide.
In chapter 5, Jesus corrects our belief, our misguided beliefs about performance orientation, self-effort, guilt manipulation, obligation, and duty. Now, in chapter 6, He’s going to correct our behavior. He’s going to teach us, well, how do we do the right thing, right? But how do we do it in the right way?
And so, I’m going to give you a quick overview here of the first part of chapter 6. And what I want you to notice here is that He’s doing here, He’s going to say, now, in our pursuit of seeking first the kingdom and His righteousness, there’s also the danger of deception.
In Matthew 6, He will give three most common practices of the Christians, the followers, the religious leaders of that day, and what He will do is He’ll show you, “Now, look, your righteousness needs to exceed that of the Pharisees. Let Me show you how to use those practices that does something to your heart and your relationship, rather than tries to impress people.”
So here’s His application. Chapter 6, verse 1: “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you’ll have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogue and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
He’s not saying here that if anyone ever finds out what you give, it’s a problem. What He’s saying is, if your motive when you give is to make sure people find out what you give, you got a problem. And He’s saying you can have a reward. Plan A: People think you’re hot stuff; God’s unimpressed. Plan B: God thinks you’re hot stuff and, in secret, wants to reward you, and people don’t know about it. You got it?
The key here is our motive. The key issue is our motive. Giving guards your devotion.
Your heart just always follows your treasure. So, if you want your motives and your devotion to stay true to God and not an idol, what did Jesus say? Well, Jesus said this wild thing. He says, “There are only really two gods: Me and mammon.”
What’s mammon? It’s materialism. And He says, you can’t serve both.
He said, “Giving is My opportunity to remind you that I own everything, and your breath is from Me. And what do you have that you don’t receive? And your heart is a very precious thing to Me, and so I’ve instituted this practice that, every time you receive some things, you take a portion of it and, actually, I’m quite generous, since it’s all Mine, and I just ask for a portion of it, not because I need it. I can do anything. But I’m asking for a portion as this reminder for you to take your little claws, because you always want to hang on to stuff, and let go, and love other people, because I’m the most generous being in all the universe. I love so much, I gave My Son. And so, I want to teach you how to love.”
And you know what? You can give without loving, but you can never love without giving.
The next practice, He goes to the motive, again, the key issue in prayer: “And when you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray” – how do they do it? – “standing in the synagogues on the street corners” – why? – “to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they’ve received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room” – it’s the idea of the inner room – “close the door pray to your Father, who’s seen in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” And then, it goes on and talks about when you pray and how to pray and the right way to pray, not babbling, and He gives us what’s now known as the Lord’s Prayer.
But He gives us in prayer – what? It’s, again, motive, and it guards your discernment. A lot of the issues you have are discernment issues: What should I do? I just don’t know. And you know what? No one does but God. And He has an agenda for you. And we always want someone to tell us what we ought to do and what percentage should we give, and, “Should I do this, or should I do that, or…?” You know what? God wants to tell you. He wants to tell you. But you’ve got to sit still.
And I pray in the car. I’m going to keep praying in the car. I practice the presence of God. I have quick little prayers here. I have short ones over here. But I have to stop, go into my inner room, shut off the world, sit before Him, and get clear. And, often, I pray through the Lord’s Prayer, so that it’s not just needs, or it’s not just worship; it’s, “Our Father” –it’s relationship – “who art in heaven” – holy, this is who God is – “I want Your kingdom to come, Your agenda, not mine. I’m going to ask for my needs; I’m going to deal with relational issues and forgive anybody You bring to my mind. I’m going to ask You to guard me from temptation. You know what’s coming today. Then, I want Your kingdom and Your power and Your glory.”
And so, the third area Jesus says about this internal righteousness, He talks about fasting, and we pick that up in verse 16: “When you fast, don’t look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they’re fasting. I tell you the truth, they’ve received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it won’t be obvious to men that you’re fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, and He’ll reward you.”
Fasting is a motive, again, and it provides perspective. It allows you to disengage from all the stuff, and spend that time with God.
And try a day or two occasionally, so when those hunger pangs come, you know, drink a lot of water, and you say, “God, I want to be reminded. I want to be reminded that all the busyness and all the pull and all the demands,” You’re just sort of backing up. And I will tell you, as you do that, you get perspective. Your spiritual sensitivity goes up when you fast.
And, finally, the summary of this is pretty clear: Spiritual disciplines are essential. Okay? Spiritual disciplines are essential but become dangerous when they become a means to gain the reward of men, rather than deepen our relationship with God.
Isn’t it amazing the heart behind Jesus’ teaching, here? Do you need to have personal discipline? Yeah. Do you need to get your priorities right? Absolutely. Do you need to get a handle on your time and your money? Yes. Do you need to look at those six things that are misplaced priorities and say, “I need to address it”? But you need to do all that with a righteousness that’s exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees.
I have a final application, here. It’s that secrecy is God’s method of keeping our motives pure. And this isn’t a legalistic, “Oh, no one knows.” If someone finds out you’re doing this or that or, “Ahh! Someone found out I was fasting.” Big deal. That’s not the issue. The issue is if you have a sign: “By the way, did you know I’m spiritual, and I’m fasting today?” That’s what’s being prohibited.
Personal discipline is a very, very spiritually hazardous endeavor. The means can never be an end. God wants your heart.