If some of you have struggled with keeping your commitments in the past, that last teaching we did on accountability I think’ll really help you. If, however, you find yourself being one of those people who say, “You know something? I’m really trying to be all God wants me to be, and I am pretty intense in pursuing Him. And yet, I have these waves of guilt, and I never know whether I’m doing enough. And as I’ve processed some of this, I’m trying to be real discerning, but I’m just not sure,” then I think this message will be very helpful.
We’re gonna look at two warnings from Jesus. You’ll notice, even the title of this message is “Personal Discipline Can Be Hazardous to Your Health.” “Warning” – flashing lights – “Personal Discipline” – and we talked about how important it is, that it’s from the Spirit of God, that we need to be disciplined, right? Now, it’s time out, before you get too focused, too fired up – personal discipline can be hazardous to your spiritual health. There are two great dangers in becoming a highly focused, highly disciplined, authentic follower of Christ.
Danger number one is the danger of distortion. Jesus warns that we can easily distort the purpose of spiritual activities. He was up on a mountain, had prayed all night, according to Luke 6, and He knew that He was gonna turn over the ministry to a select group of men, not a group of men that most of us would have chosen. Most of them blue-collar workers, exception of maybe one. One was a former revolutionary, a couple of guys with anger management issues. One, a strong leader with a very big mouth; one, a betrayer; one, a crook. And He goes up into the mountain, and it’s very clear, the parallel. He’s going to – even as, you know, Moses was the great Old Testament hero, and as Moses laid out God’s economy for the children of Israel from the mountain, now, Jesus – the Rabbi, the Teacher – goes up into the mountain, and He prays, and we will hear what’s commonly called the “Sermon on the Mount.” But He’s talking to His disciples, and the crowd is overhearing. And as the text opens up, it says He sits down, which was, when a rabbi was speaking authoritatively, he would sit down and say, “This is the way it is.”
You’ll notice that you have, in your notes, Matthew chapter 5. And then, in your notes, you also see a structure, or overview, of Matthew chapter 5. The context is verses 1 and 2: “Now when He saw the crowds, He went up [into the] mountainside and [He] sat down. His disciples came to Him, and He began to teach them, saying . . .”
Now, before I read through it, obviously, in our time together, I can’t go through all of this in much detail. But I want you to see the structure. Verses 3 through 12, He’s going to say the reward and the character of true followers look like this. You wanna know what a true follower in the kingdom of God, from the Son of God is - we commonly call it “the Beatitudes.” And then, in verses 13 through 16, He’s going to say when that kind of character is lived out by the grace of God, in relationship with Him, you are literally the salt and the light of the world. He’s saying be worthy examples. And then, after that, then, He’s gonna – He’s gonna have to tie it in, because they’ve spent all their time as little boys in the synagogue listening to the Pharisees teach. And Moses is the great teacher. And so, now, He needs to say, “What am I saying, and how does that tie in to what you’ve always heard?”
And what they’ve always heard is not only the Old Testament teaching, but there’s the Mishnah, and that was an oral tradition that I think someone has said there are about 614 or 13 commands in the Old Testament, clear commands. Well, add two or three more thousand that came out of this oral teaching. They had commands about how many steps you could take on the Sabbath, about this, about – I mean, every detail of life. A Pharisee would fast twice a week. They would tithe on their money, and Jesus would even say, later, down to the herbs and spices. They were legalistic, down to the minutia.
And so, Jesus is declaring Himself and His message and His followers. And then, He’s gonna say, “Where do I, in My teaching, fit with what you’ve heard all your life, with Moses?” And He’s gonna make a very radical statement in verse 20, and He’s gonna talk about true righteousness.
So, have you got the structure? So, with that, just listen. Let’s listen, first, to the reward and character of His followers: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they [shall] see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called [the] sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. [In fact,] blessed are you when people insult you, [and] persecute you . . . falsely [and] say all [kind] of evil [things] against you because of Me.”
You see the role He’s taking? “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” And so, He gives a character quality – the poor in spirit, someone who sees their need before God – and then, He gives the reward. The character quality, the reward; the character quality, the reward. He says, “This is an authentic follower of Mine.”
And then, He goes from that to impact: What’s the role? How do you live? “You are” – He doesn’t say “become,” He doesn’t say “do.” “’You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? [It’s] no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. ‘You are the light of the world. A city [set] on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light [so] shine before men, that they may see your good [works] and praise your Father [who is] in heaven.’” And in their minds, when He said “good works,” the good works that would immediately come to their mind would be the good works of the Pharisees. I mean, all the good works, all the duties, all the rules, all the stuff.
And so, He begins to build the structure, first of the reward and character, then, be worthy of examples, and now, we’re gonna get to the part where you’re gonna really get in trouble if you’re the Messiah. He says, “Do not think” – because, “Who are you? Are You the one? Shall we expect another?” Even John the Baptist was asking. He’s a teacher like no one else. He speaks with authority. The lame walk. The blind see. The dead are raised. He feeds 5,000. So, where do you fit in the economy of God?
And He’s gonna just lay it out: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, [nor] the least stroke of [the] pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks . . . the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands” – did you notice the emphasis? Practices and teaches. What’s His problem with the Pharisees? What’s His problem with the religious culture? It’s duplicity. It’s the problem we have today. Everyone says, “I’m born again.” Everyone says, “I love Jesus.” We just don’t live that way. “[Anyone who] practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of [God]. For I tell you” – and this is the one where their jaws dropped – “I tell you . . . unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Now, can you imagine hearing this sermon, and getting to that part and going, Are you kidding? I mean, these guys are squeaky clean, squeaky clean, squeaky clean. I mean, they have these things on their head, that goes down their robes, and the hundreds or thousands of verses that they’ve memorized. They pray at certain times. They give their money; they fast twice a week. I mean, if righteousness is doing the right things, I mean, these guys . . . And now, this new Messiah tells me unless my righteousness exceeds theirs, I can’t even get in. Right about now, I’m thinking, There’s no hope for me. And then, Jesus begins to make the distinction between external righteousness – activities, spiritual activities, good activities, doing the right things, however, for the wrong reason.
All the things about the character, did you notice that every single thing of those beatitudes, they were “be,” not “do,” attitudes? They were issues of who you are inside, who you are that only God can see, who you are when no one’s looking. What are your motives? What matters? Jesus says genuine righteousness is always a matter of the heart.
And then, we’re gonna pick it up, and notice, in your notes, it says “true righteousness.” And then, He’s gonna take their oral commands, and what He’s gonna say is, “Here’s the external righteousness that you’ve been taught since you were little boys and little girls. But I say to you, behind that external thing, this is the Spirit, this is God’s heart, this is what He was always after.”
The Pharisees – each one, He’s gonna, “You have heard it said” – the focus is external. Jesus’ll say, “No, no, the focus should be internal.” With the Pharisees, it was always about doing. Jesus’ll say, “No, no, no, no, it’s really about being.” The Pharisees were pounding people and making people greater sinners than themselves. It was about duty, duty, duty. Jesus said, “They missed it. It’s about devotion.” The Pharisees would say, “It’s performance. Are you doing this? Are you doing that? Are you doing this?” Jesus said, “Performance – no one can be justified by the Law. It’s about your relationship.”
On the Pharisees’ side, they manipulated and controlled people with guilt. Jesus said, “I want to introduce you to grace.” They were focused on the letter of the Law. Jesus said, “No, no, it’s not the letter; it’s the spirit of the Law. The letter kills; the Spirit gives life.” Finally, Jesus said, “They’ve got it all in their head. I want you to know that I’m looking for the pure in heart.” And so, He applies it. So, He starts with murder, and now, remember, the context is, your righteousness – if you were listening to the sermon by Jesus – it needs to be exceeding that of the most religious, squeaky-clean, got-it-together, disciplined folks that you could ever imagine.
And so, He starts. He said, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, [I say, if] anyone . . . says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone . . . says [to his brother], ‘You fool!’ [is] in danger of the fire of hell. “Therefore, [I say to you,] if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there . . . [at] the altar . . . [and] go . . . be reconciled to your brother; then come and [present your offering].” And then, He goes on and talks about settling matters.
The command was about, don’t commit murder. What’s behind murder? Murder is the last thing you do when you have relational conflict that’s unresolved. And where does it start? It starts with anger. It starts with a resentment, and there’s anger or a hurt or injustice, and the anger builds, and it ends up in the action of murder. And so, Jesus says what’s behind that are some relational issues. And He’s talking about the value of human relationships.
And so, He takes it from murder, to saying – we don’t have time to explain what He meant, there, but – “You fool” – very strong word in that culture. And then, He goes, “Wait a second. In fact, if you don’t have something right with a brother, hey, don’t come here and give your offering with God. This stuff that you’ve observed most of your life, where there’s hatred and the breakdown in relationships, and yet, people do their perfunctory religion” – He says, “You’ve missed the heart of God. Make things right with God.”
And did you notice, He didn’t say, “If you blew it”? “If you are aware that there’s a problem with your brother” – it may be his problem, it may be your problem, maybe 50/50, might be 90/10, might be 99 percent them, one percent you. He says, “[If you come before] the altar and there remember . . . your brother has something against you” – what’s His point? Relational reconciliation and human relationships are the heart of that command.
Well, He applies it to the next area, and instead of talking about murder, He’s gonna talk about the sanctity of sex. He says, “[You’ve] heard . . . it . . . said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I [say to] you . . . anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out . . . [It’s] better for you to lose one [eye from] . . . your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off . . .” A hyperbole, here. He’s making a metaphor to say the gravity of what you need to do, but what’s His point?
They got to the point where, hey, did you commit adultery or not? Is it legal? I’ll tell you what, Moses gave a certificate of divorce – and at this point, there were two schools of thought. But, basically, the average guy could say, “You know what? She doesn’t look very pretty anymore. I don’t want her anymore.” A woman had zero rights – Ehhh! – “You’re out. I’ll get a new one.”
And Jesus said, “Wait a second. It’s not just the external behavior. I’m telling you that when your loyalty moves from the fidelity of a covenant marriage to even mentally going to another person before God, you’ve already missed.
Be as drastic as you need to be to deal with the issue of the sanctity of sexuality.
He goes to the next area, which is having to do with divorce. He says, “[It’s] been said [among you that if] ‘anyone . . . divorces his wife [he] must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you [if] anyone . . . divorces his wife, except for marital [infidelity] causes her to become an adulteress .” And, again, it’s the sanctity of the family. It’s not just the legality. It’s the covenant. It’s what you committed to. It’s the relationship.
He skips down to oaths: “Again [I say, you’ve] heard . . . it . . . said [from] people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths [that] you have made to the Lord.’ But I [say to] you, [Don’t] swear at all: either by heaven, for [that] is God's throne; or . . . the earth, for [it’s] His footstool; or by Jerusalem, for [it’s] the city of the Great [God]. And [don’t] swear by your head, for you [can’t] make even one hair [be] white or black. Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No' [be] 'No'; anything beyond [that] comes from the evil one.” And this was a time when they would do business deals – they wouldn’t have a lot of written contracts – “I swear by this,” and, “I swear by that,” and, “I swear by this. I swear by that.” Had this whole system of swears. And Jesus said, “You know what? Here’s the deal. Just try integrity. If you say, ‘Yes, I’ll do it,’ you do it. If you say, ‘No,’ just mean it. Stop playing these games and negotiating and trying to attempt to work around religious loopholes. Be men and women of integrity from the heart.”
And then, He gets to retribution and, you know, that classic “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.” “But I [say to] you, Do not resist . . . evil person [or resist] if someone strikes you.” And by the way, the striking, here, on the right cheek, most people are right handed. This is more of the offense. It’s the slapping.
And then, He says, “If someone [asks] you to go one mile” – the Roman soldiers, by law, could come to anyone and say, “You carry this for a mile. You carry my equipment for a mile.” And, basically, what He says is, “You know your pride and your rights, and when you get offended” – “Well, they did that to me. I’m gonna do that to him.” He said, “You know something? There’s some law, how ‘bout grace? How ‘bout we show the world how different and wonderful God is? Let’s give people what they don’t deserve.”
So, a Roman soldier says, “Okay, I command you now, in the name of the emperor and the Roman government, you must carry my equipment, by law, for one mile.” And then, they had markers. “There’s a mile.” And you look up and say, “Hey, do you mind if I go one more?” And that soldier goes, “What?” He says that’s a Kingdom citizen. You see the heart? You see the difference?
Then, finally, He said, “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 be like your Father in heaven. “He causes [the] sun to rise on the evil and the good, [He] sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you” – You know – “what reward [is that]? [don’t] . . . tax collectors [and sinners do] that?”
And so, He makes this point. He says, “I want you to demonstrate to the Romans, grace.” And then, He says, “What do you do to your enemies? You don’t give them what they deserve.” Grace is giving people something they don’t deserve. Mercy is withholding what people do deserve. And so, when your enemies… He says, “I want you to withhold what you would normally give them, and I want you to overcome evil with good. You’ll never be more like your heavenly Father than when you love people who have wounded and hurt and abused and betrayed you.”