Entering and Embodying God’s Kingdom | Matthew 7:21-29

The Sermon on the Mount is not a series of unrelated teaching clips randomly jumping from one topic to another. There is thematic rhythm flowing through every bit of it. Topically, the sermon pieces together various aspects of the ethical demands for living within Jesus’ kingdom community; as a whole, the sermon is designed to set Jesus’ followers apart to embody a way of living whose root and fruit is his holy character. The Sermon on the Mount is very much a curriculum for creating kingdom culture “on earth as it is in heaven”; to give specific shape to a citizenry whose lives and the way they do life glorifies the Father by reflecting his goodness. As Jesus brings his Sermon on the Mount to a close, he puts a final touch on the uniqueness that is to characterize his kingdom community.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”

Jesus’ comment that the Father is in heaven and those who do his will will enter the kingdom of heaven suggests the reality of the kingdom is not exclusive only to the Father’s heavenly location. That is, the kingdom of heaven is also setting up shop on earth where those who do the Father’s will may enter. The expansion of the kingdom’s earthly presence can be further seen in Jesus’ comments in Luke 11:20 and 17:20-21.

As God’s heavenly rule is implemented on earth, there will be those who will name-drop to get in on it. There is always something about knowing a name or identity that somehow makes us feel like we get it or are “in the know”. Jesus makes it clear that knowing his name or using it will not benefit us. The kingdom of heaven is for those who have received the King’s grace and whose lives are committed to reflecting the King’s character.

Clarifying what he means with an example, Jesus says Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’”

Normally we view these actions as quite exemplary. Books are written, ministries launched, and guest speakers fawned over because of activities like these. But are these activities the actual problem? Jesus continues “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”

Jesus’ declaration hangs on two words or phrases.

“I never knew you”: In the Greek, the word knew implies a deep level of intimacy; in some cases that level could be sexual. In this case it appears Jesus is speaking to those who use his name or title, engage in religious adventures and wear spiritual façades, but whose lives are not actually intimately acquainted with and characteristically distinguished by the righteousness he embodies and calls his followers to. 

“You who practice lawlessness”: The psalm Jesus quotes is one in which the writer, finding graceful relief from his dismay, discards the iniquitous influences from his life, or, as Jesus puts it here, those who “practice lawlessness”. Just as the integrity of an Israelite’s righteousness depended on their abiding by the Law, the Christian disciple’s righteousness depends on their abiding in Christ. We can’t call Jesus ‘Lord’ if we’re not abiding in him and by his righteous way of living.

This is the uniqueness that is to characterize the followers of Christ, setting us apart from not only a world wanting nothing to do with Christ, but those content to merely mimic Christian habits. Called to be a people whose lives are to be salt and light, we are to embody a righteousness surpassing “that of the scribes and Pharisees, [lest we] will not enter the kingdom of heaven”.

Just as God’s kingdom reality was initially manifested in the person of Christ, it is currently expressed in the lives of Christ’s body, the Church. Kingdom reality requires cultivating; a nurturing of habits that emulate Christ’s holiness. This is not done quickly or assertively, but often quite carefully, as one builds a durable home.

Thus Jesus concludes Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”

Both the beginning (5:20) and ending (7:21) of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount contains a theme of entering the kingdom of heaven. Now Jesus concludes his message with imagery conveying how those who have entered may sustain their commitment to the kingdom. It’s not just about hearing Jesus’ words, and then thinking that somehow entitles us to something, but acting upon them. Letting Jesus’ entire message mold our habits and direct our steps. That as his words shapes our ways, the reality being emitted from our lives will imbue the lives around us with sacred seeds that could grow into a kingdom culture rooted in Christ’s rule.

“When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.”

Reality is always made compellingly clearer when conveyed by its author. As Jesus’ words and actions author a new reality in which we are being redemptively restored to God’s good reign, we gladly receive and embody that which is worth seeking first above all things throughout our lives, the good news of the kingdom of heaven.

“You will know them by their fruits” | Matthew 7:15-20

Much of Jesus’ message in Matthew 5-7 is the establishing of God’s Kingdom ethics to guide how his disciples live. Within this “Sermon on the Mount” are designs for a form of discipleship that can easily be characterized as unique. This is important to consider for at least two reasons. One, if we are following a one-of-a-kind King, it stands to reason that our following be done in a one-of-a-kind way. But secondly, if our way of living begins to blend undistinguishably into the milieu of other ways of living, it may indicate a departure from that one-of-a-kind way has occurred.

Such a departure does not happen suddenly, but gradually. Sometimes it just happens due to a series of seasons and reasons. But other times, such departures can be induced or prompted by some form of influence.

Jesus had seen this happen amongst his own people. By his time, hypocrisy had grown prevalent amongst the teachers of the Jewish law; there was a tendency to teach one thing while doing another. This tendency essentially resulted in a culture that ran contrary to what God had already established in Scripture. Concerned this tendency also would occur within the community he was teaching his disciples to cultivate, Jesus issues them an alert: “Beware of the false prophets”.

A prophet’s role is to clarify the way of God and to embody that life in a manner that calls people to it. The false prophet completely undermines this effort. How so?

Jesus’s full statement in Matthew 7:15 is “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

The imagery here seems to be a bit of dark humor. Humorous because the image of a wolf adorning himself in sheep’s wool in order to get close to the flock seems quite cartoonish; yet dark, considering that beneath this cartoonish façade, deceitfulness, theft, and devouring are playing out. These are figures who intend to creep in amongst Christ’s followers, assume authority of Christ’s message for their own agenda, and modify it into an alternative version than what Jesus revealed. Thus Jesus characterizes the future false prophets who will attempt to infiltrate his kingdom community.

In our day of parachurch positions combined with self-promotion, the role of prophet sometimes takes on a somewhat official capacity. While we would not expect to see anyone wearing a name tag saying false prophet, it seems in such a day such a person would appear more obvious. But that’s Jesus’ point: such people will not be so easily recognizable. Therefore, adapting to a new metaphor, Jesus continues “You will know them by their fruits.”

To clarify, Jesus illustratively says Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.”

Everyone in this agrarian culture knew sweet and energizing fruit doesn’t come from dry prickly bushes. Nature only begets its own. What is produced is determined by its nature. Nature cannot mismatch or misproduce. Nature can produce nothing besides its own. Though Jesus’ disciples would identify false prophets by recognizing their fruit’s “bad” nature, doing so required they know what “good” fruit looks like.

Throughout his sermon, Jesus’ usage of good usually refers to the Father’s goodness as framed in his teachings. By keeping to and living out the sermon’s teachings, disciples embody and project the Father’s goodness. The Father’s goodness is the nature of which the disciples are now apart through their following of Jesus. To live a life that reflects a nature different from that of the Father, as framed in the sermon’s teachings, is to disassociate oneself from his nature and his goodness, disabling oneself from producing “good fruit”.

Being able to identify possible distorting hypocrisy and predatory deceitfulness at play amongst our congregations is necessary. Ultimately, however, it’s not about an incessant haphazard heresy hunt, but taking Jesus’ warning seriously by recognizing the reality it portends. That he has called us to a type of living whose root is the Father’s unique goodness and whose fruit is the way of his Son. Since it would not be love on Jesus’ part to validate types of living that would contradict the type of living he is establishing, his words call us to be transplanted out from every alternative type of living, however preferential they might be, and implanted into the Father’s uniqueness facilitated through the Son so what is cultivated will yield a nature sweetened with God’s goodness.

Walking upon the narrow way | Matthew 7:13-14

As Jesus begins moving towards a conclusion to his sermon on the mount, he paints another word picture for his disciples—“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.  For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

The context does not precisely clarify what imagery Jesus is drawing on.  Perhaps he’s referring to an officer’s door in a city wall in contrast with the main gate for the local population.  Maybe he’s referring to the narrow alleyway one would take leading up to the small door of their home versus the broader main street up and down which crowds would walk and vendors haul their carts.  Whatever specifics Jesus had in mind, the text is sufficient.  Two ways.  Wide and broad; small and narrow.  Within Jesus’ words, three sets of differences distinguish these ways from each other.

The first difference between these two ways is freedom.  A wider, broader way allows more freedom for moving around and about for comfortable maneuvering and exploring.  The smaller, narrower way, however, offers less freedom; the edges are tight and walking space is restricted.  The path has to be taken as it is or not at all.

The second difference concerns the travelers who frequent these ways.  While many enter and walk the wider way, few will find and follow the narrow way.

The boundaries of these respective paths are no doubt a factor for their travelers.  The wide way allows spaciousness for strolling, side stops for meandering, features for customization.  The traveler chooses the pace; it allows them to turn to the left or to the right.  The path is about the traveler’s individual story or experience.  The broader way is for tourists.

The narrow path, however, forces focus.  Care must be taken for each step, how the leg is extended and the foot is planted.  Lest you lose sight of the leader or hold up those behind you, the mind must be melded with every disciplined movement.  The trek is about the path itself and how it works its essence into the travelers who belong to it.

Ultimately, however, the freedom each path seems to offer is ironically inconsistent with where each leads.  The third difference, therefore, is the destinations towards which these paths are moving.  The way that was so wide and broad, scenic and spacious eventually comes down to an undoing of everything it seemed to promise, a dead end with nowhere to go.  The narrow path, as small and limited as it seemed, eventually opens up into a spaciousness that offers elation and beauty with an abundance of life.

As helpful each of these differences are in parsing the picture Jesus paints here, it still remains a bit abstract.  The narrow way Jesus emphasizes and directs disciples toward can be generalized to mean anything, turning it into some existential road less traveled.  If viewed through the context of what Jesus has been saying throughout his sermon on the mount, however, the constrictions of the narrow way become more defined and emancipating.

Rather than allowing murder to remain the epitome of evil and dysfunctionality, Jesus singles out the anger we broadly tolerate as the darkness to avoid.  Instead of measuring our martial fidelity in terms of affairs or incidents of cheating, Jesus characterizes it by the purity of our hearts.  Rather than reinforcing the “eye for an eye” sense of justice, Jesus distinguishes peace as our balancing contribution.  Instead of reserving love for those who will repay it, Jesus stipulates a sacrificial love for all, enemies included.  In each of these examples, Jesus moves the standards of righteousness from the broadly held to the narrowly pursued.  It is the narrow way because it is framed by ways of living that are characteristic of Christ alone.

When the LORD gave Moses the commands, He said “So you shall observe to do just as the LORD your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right or to the left.  You shall walk in all the way which the LORD your God has commanded you.”

Now centuries later, Jesus here moves his listeners away from broad generalizations about moral goodness by painting this “all the way” visualization of discipleship.  It has been said “we make the way by walking it”.  The narrow way has been formed in the unique footsteps of the Messiah; each of his words and actions has been a step that leaves his way before us to follow, and by following it, we brought into a community who embodies a way of life that reveals the Lord who can always be found along its route.

The getting and giving of God’s goodness

In Matthew 7:1-6, Jesus has just discussed an interactive dynamic of grace-and-truth that must exist amongst the brethren with boldness and discretion and without hypocrisy or haughtiness.  From there, however, Jesus seems to change topics.

In v7, he says “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”

It’s an imperative that summons followers to a constant tenaciousness—keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking—in their pursuit of something Jesus does not actually clarify here. With a follow-up comment“For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened”—Jesus affirms their tenacity will be met with results. But other than tenacious prayerful pursuance, what exactly is Jesus calling us to so vigorously pursue?

He then introduces an illustration: “Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”

If even flawed fathers know how to give their children what is good, our faith and reverence should be strengthened when considering “how much more” our good Father is in giving what is good to we who tenaciously pursue it. So here now the nature of our tenacious pursuit is clarified as “what is good”. But what is meant by good?

A second look at Jesus’ illustration may help. The son in the illustration asks for a loaf or a fish. Neither of these are toys or pets, but food; items meant to give life. The other two items incredulously hypothesized are a stone or a snake, objects that will not provide life or be for the child’s good. The difference between these two sets of gifts is that which gives life to the child and that which doesn’t. The good we are to so tenaciously pursue from the Father, therefore, is that which manifests in the provision and preservation of life.

Now up until this point, it could seem this pursuit of the Father’s life-giving goodness has been laid out to us for our own personal benefit of health and happiness. In v12, however, Jesus adds “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

It now suddenly seems Jesus is reverting back to his theme of how his disciples are to interact with others. The therefore Jesus includes here hints this discussion has all along been framing how his followers’ pursuit of the Father’s life-giving goodness should be done on behalf of others as eagerly as we would do so for ourselves. Why didn’t Jesus simply mention it while discussing his disciples’ interactions with others in Matthew 7:1-6? Perhaps because good treatment can’t be properly understood until it is witnessed in the Father.

Jesus’ previous conversation in Matthew 7:1-6 exposed our human tendency to interact with people in ways that are hypocritical, focusing on the speck in their eye while ignoring the log in ours. In our hypocrisy, we demonstrate a strange willingness to treat people in ways we ourselves would never want to be treated. This oddity seems to suggest we may not actually know what good treatment looks like or how we want to be treated. If that is the case, we can’t yet claim to know how to treat others. Thankfully, however, Jesus took the time to establish it for us.

Jesus’ explanation in v11 establishes the Father’s life-giving goodness as the basis for how we perceive our value in His eyes. We now know we can trustingly and persistently beseech the Father for His good provision.

But just as v11 challenges us to see “how much more” the Father’s goodness is visited upon those who tenaciously pursue it, v12 immediately challenges us to also pursue that goodness on behalf of others. God’s goodness cannot be sought and kept simply for our own benefit; doing so defies the benevolent nature of God’s goodness and deprives our surrounding communities of its redemptive and transformative properties. If goodness is something we hope to seek and keep only for ourselves, it will never remain good.

I had hoped to post this article a few days ago, but several tragedies then suddenly struck—the shooting of a black man in Baton Rouge, a shooting of another black man in Minneapolis, and, last night, a reactionary mass shooting of police officers and some bystanders in Dallas.  As these tragedies open afresh the wounds of our local, national, and human communities, I hear Jesus’ words with new conviction as his imperative still speaks.

Kingdom citizens must keep asking the Father for the news and provision of His kingdom-centered goodness to be poured into the communities in which we continually witness.  We must keep seeking to be agents of kingdom-centered goodness in our communities through the kingdom-centered ways we live.  We must keep prayerfully knocking on every door that could open up and welcome God’s kingdom-centered goodness to enter and therein find a home.

As this “Law and the Prophets” essence continually calls the community of Christ to embody a love for our neighbors learned from our Father, how we give it witness can bring us all into a better understanding of “what is good” and from that understanding could come a greater awareness and assurance of the Father from whom goodness flows.

Jesus on judging | Matthew 7:1-6

The sermon on the mount is an exposition for kingdom living, that pursuit in which the Christian believer first and foremost seeks God’s kingdom and righteousness in the way they live their lives. As Jesus speaks his words, he’s establishing standards of holy living by which his followers will be aligned. At the same time, however, his righteous standard was being set into a religious culture that had a tendency to pick apart people’s piety while themselves handling the commandments with convenience. This is a tendency Jesus does not desire his followers to replicate. So he tells them “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.”

If you observe carefully, Jesus is not precisely commenting here on the substance of one’s judgments, but on the tit-for-tat dynamic they incorporate when conveying those judgments.

Jesus explains this dynamic: “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” Interacting and talking with people in ways and with words that cross over into those guarded boundary areas often referred to as personal or private has a way of stimulating people’s attention to gaze back over and into our boundary areas to wonder if we practice what we preach. Measuring people invites them to measure us; how we measure people will determine how they measure us. In one sense, this dynamic is natural; it fosters responsibility through accountability. However the dynamic is not the standard being applied or the integrity of those using it. This discrepancy of conflicting standards and hypocrisy is what becomes the undoing of many opportunities for holy accountability.

Jesus illustrates this with pointed humor, saying “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?”

The absurdity of this image makes something clear: neither person can see straight. There may be differing degrees of distortion, but their sense of perception is definitely distorted, warped, and bent out of shape. Nobody sees as clear as they think they do.

It is this reality that has given rise to the ever popular social notion that people should never judge, be judged, or held accountable to or by any standard. Contrary to how Jesus’ “do not judge” is often used, however, the case is not the lack of a righteous standard for people to follow (John 3:16-21, 12:47-48), or that Christians should not hold their brethren accountable (1 Corinthians 5:9-13, Galatians 6:1-2), but that the standard be not our own or one we hold to when convenient.

Desiring to disenthrall his followers from the hypocritical habitat characterizing much of their religious culture by aligning them with the righteous way of his word and person, Jesus tells them “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

God’s righteous standard is embodied in the one we are to be following. We cannot see Jesus clearly, nor his righteous way, if our vision is hindered with hypocrisy or too fixed and focused on our standard of measurement. Rather than measuring others hypocritically, it is our delightful duty as disciples to instead make every sacred effort to measure up in our conforming to Christ as weseek first His kingdom and His righteousness.”

That means slowing down. Adapting to God’s redemptive rhythms. Learning to savor the sweet flavor of calm obedience. Gradually, this God-centered concentration cleanses our vision and aligns our perceptions with the way of grace, the way of truth, the way of holiness. The way of Jesus. As God’s Spirit cultivates our demeanor, his fruitfulness (Galatians 5:22-23!!) goes before us as an appetizer for the grace-and-truth interactions through which people can again or for the first time taste and see that the LORD is good.”

Sadly, however, the way of Jesus is a narrow way not everyone wishes to walk. Some will resist politely, others with hostility. Anticipating such refusals, Jesus paints another picture: Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”  

Jesus doesn’t mean worthless in his mention of these unclean creatures. Rather, like dogs and pigs, he means those stubbornly set in their ways, ferociously defensive toward another way; those who cannot distinguish pearls from pig pellets, and who growl, bite, snort, or charge when they sense someone trying to clean up their sty. No one approached such creatures without caution. Disciples are to display similar caution in their interactions with others.

After Jesus has just said “Do not judge”, it seems ironic how he now tells his followers to incorporate a measure of discrimination in how they inhabit grace and truth when interacting with others. But if it’s read in light of the previous verse (5), the discrimination is not haughty and hypocritical, but a humble stewardship of the holy pearls that are God’s ways of grace and truth. It’s a call to shrewdness or “street-smarts” regarding life upon God’s way, because so valuable are God’s ways and words of grace and truth that only those who are seeking them out will ultimately witness, wonder, and worship in light of their transforming realities.

When it comes to this topic of judging others, the categorical divides can often seem to fall between those who want to tell it like it is (or call it like they see it), those who don’t want to be told what to do, and those who are not always sure how to navigate such issues. The reality, however, is that Jesus has approached us all and said “Follow Me”, pulling everyone from their respective positions on issues and down a path paved by the footprints of his holy nature and righteous actions. It is along the way of Jesus we are united in the ways of Jesus, no longer measuring each other, but molding each other into a people whose lives give witness to “His Kingdom and His righteousness.”

Wealth, Worry, and the Wonder of God | Matthew 6:24-34

Much of Jesus’ chapter 6 comments focus on the development of Kingdom-centered piety for the disciple; beginning in v24, Jesus examines this pursuit in the context of our relationship with money.

That relationship can be a complicated one.  On the one hand, we all need money—to provide food, clothing, shelter, to pay bills, taxes, to provide a sense of security, to enjoy life.  But we also know there’s great tendency for money to become so much more.  For various reasons, money can go from being a means to life to becoming the meaning of life.

Jesus cuts right to the heart of the matter and says “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.”  Devotion cannot be divided.  Many have tried to parse their hearts amongst various pursuits, but deep down one is always a priority.  As the physics principle goes, two objects cannot occupy the same space; when it’s the heart’s devotion, there can be only one.  Jesus takes these general notions of dueling masters and specifies “You cannot serve God and wealth”.

The word Jesus uses here, Mammon, means more than just wealth.  It is a term that visualizes money as a godlike personality whose wealth-wiles can have mastery over us, how we think, choose to use our time, how we value people in terms of what they can do for us.  A mindset mastered by Mammon genuinely lives like “cash is king”.

It is okay to have an income, to make money, to provide.  As a disciple it’s not wrong to be reasonably concerned about your finances and to take wise steps to address those concerns.  But should those concerns begin to undermine our commitment to and contentment in Christ, those legitimate concerns have transformed into dictatorial masters over us.  We have to choose.

Jesus knows, however, that choosing to follow him, worthwhile as it is, also has the potential to exacerbate anxiety and worry.  Having decided to follow Christ in a way that does not obsessively seek out Wealth, the opportunity cost of all the money we might have had could begin to set our minds and hearts on edge.  We begin asking questions.  “Will everything be alright?  Will we be okay?  Will we be able to eat?  Will we have clothing, shelter?  Will we survive?”

These questions can very easily turn into nagging what ifs, knots in the stomach, trembling hands, unsettled minds, fear of the future, resentment of past choices, misdirected anger, paralyzing anxiety, and a waning passion for Christ.  Knowing how our choice to prioritize God over Wealth could potentially stir up these overwhelming concerns, Jesus comments “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?  And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!”

To not worry about food and shelter goes against our grain.  It’s an instruction that, admittedly, is difficult to accept.  But there’s more here than just an instruction.  There are questions.  There’s imagination.  There’s wonder.  The thing about worry is that our mind is always racing, frantically moving in circles.  Good questions, however, slow worry down.  They give the mind something productive to ponder.  And imagination, like food for an empty stomach, gives the mind something to feed upon, to be nourished by.

With his questions, Jesus wants to deconstruct this domineering understanding we often have that life is all about the materials.  Like an older brother draping his arm around us, knowing better, Jesus’ questions hush our hurried worries.  With his images, Jesus wants to fill up our understanding with the awareness and assurance of a caring Father.  Like a visionary painting, Jesus’ images invite us to behold a reality resplendent with God’s glorious riches, worth, and redemptive purpose.  Wonder feeds faith, making obedience joyful.

We are to “not worry then” about provisions as the world frantically does.  Rather, knowing how our heavenly Father knows our needs, we are freed to follow after what God is setting before us in Christ. Thus Jesus ultimately emphasizes “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

His kingdom is the heavenly reign of God spilling into and transforming the realities of Earth through the redemptive work of King Jesus for the reconciling of humanity’s relationship to God, creation, and each other unto the renewal of Heaven and Earth.  It is the good news Jesus proclaimed.  It is the epitome of God’s plan for us all.  It is the way of Jesus.  As “all roads [led] to Rome”, the continuous seeking of Jesus always conducts us into Christ’s rule and realm, cultivating us into witnesses of the wonder God is continuously working out amongst this world.  How do we bear witness?

His righteousness gives integrity to his redemptive words and works, and authority to his kingly rule.  As we keep company with Christ, his righteousness is instilled in us, conforming our character to his, molding us into God’s witnesses.

Seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness first by following Jesus is a pursuit whose single-mindedness simplifies all other pursuits and weeds out our worry by enrapturing our attention with God-glorifying wonder. A heart so consumed with the majesty of God has no room for worry.

Does this mean we stop working to provide for needs?  Of course not.  It actually enables us to work more wholeheartedly, with a contented wonder-while-we-work mentality.  It also frees our minds of the burden our heavenly Father has already promised to shoulder.  “So do not worry about tomorrow” Jesus concludes, “for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Worry does not give hope for tomorrow, but God-wonder does foster joy for today.  Thus the marvelous reality of God’s redemptive rule sets our minds and bodies into tranquil rhythms as we go forth living and working in ways that give witness to the wondrous work God is accomplishing in King Jesus.

Oh, be careful little eyes how you see | Matthew 6:22-23

Much of Jesus’ comments in Matthew 6 have concentrated on internal cultivation of the disciple’s piety. Continuing in v22, Jesus employs a metaphor to further clarify this conditioning, saying “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

HerodLampLitRtThe common lamps of Jesus’ day were clay containers with an outlet from which protruded a burning wick. If these lamps contained little or no oil, the flame would sporadically flicker before eventually going out.  If the oil was old, contained impurities, or the wick improperly made, the flame might give off a burning odor or possibly smoke up the room.  The lamp had to be clean, the oil had to be plentiful and pure, and the wick properly fashioned in order for a proper flame to burn and light up a room.  Ultimately the clarity of the room depended on the condition of the lamp and its contents.  This is the imagery Jesus is referencing.  The metaphor he illustrates is that our eyes are the lamps and our bodies the room.

The message of this metaphor is basically that the condition of our personhood depends on the clarity of our perception. The emphasis Jesus places on specifying how the cleanliness of the eye/lamp affects the condition of the person/room suggests the internal condition and cultivation of a disciple’s piety depends greatly on how they are perceiving or processing everything entering their awareness, whether it’s world culture or kingdom culture.  In a sense, it’s like Jesus is saying “How you see shapes what you will be.”

How, then, should we as salt and light disciples see or perceive?

The following are a few patterns I have found helpful.

Think and process with humility, trying to understand and respond to current events or everyday moments in a way that “leaves room” for how God is sovereignly at work in all those vast matters.

Think and process with empathy, utilizing a patience and magnanimity as we attempt to gain a sense of a situation from a perspective besides our own.

Think and process with scrutiny, learning to see beyond the way things seem or are sold by fact checking and examining constructs and conventional thought.

Think and process with a Scriptural mindset, being deeply rooted in God’s textually framed righteousness so your decisions and character yield fruitfulness reflecting Christ’s character.

Think and process prayerfully, allowing constant conversation with God to visualize and cultivate Christlikeness richly into your character.

Think and process decisively, letting everything you have carefully and prayerfully taken into consideration move you to live and act in accordance with the convictions that have developed.

The affairs of this world force us to face an overwhelming barrage of conflict, whether it’s in politics, business, relationships, marketing, or culture. If we are perceiving and reacting to everything around us with the same anxiety, defensiveness, tribalism, and competitiveness the world does, it will only be the same great smoky darkness characterizing the world we are hoping to illumine.  We cannot be “light of the world” if we’re only blowing smoke.

Jesus’ illustration thus aids the imagination in reminding those committed to being “light of the world” to pursue and possess a disciplined insightfulness that enlightens the shadows of ambiguity and shines light both inside ourselves and outward toward the world around.