To watch other Voice of the Martyrs videos, visit the Voice of the Martyrs Video Page!
Last time we learned about seven steps that we should take when reading the gospel:
2) Ask “What Does this Reveal About the Character of God?”
3) Ask “What is the Context?”
4) Ask “How Does the Nicene Creed Shed Light On this Passage?”
5) Ask “What Action Does God Take In This Passage Toward Others?”
6) Ask “What Action Does God Call Me to Take Toward Others?”
7) Ask “What Actions Will I Take?”
But why are these steps so important? Why should we follow them? Do they actually make a difference in reading the Bible?
Let’s do an experiment to find out.
First, we’ll read Matthew 5:38-48 without these questions. Then we’ll apply the questions to the scripture passage. My hypothesis is that applying these questions will change the way we read the scripture. What do you think?
When we read this scripture without asking these questions (or asking these questions incorrectly) we often come away with a list of commands:
“Do not resist the one who is evil” (Matthew 5:39)
“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matthew 5:41)
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44)
By the time we have read this, we have become incredulous. We want to be able to do these things, but they seem impossible! After all, if we “do not resist the one who is evil” won’t we be taken advantage of? What Christ is calling us to do is unfair and unreasonable!
When pastors say, “Jesus doesn’t actually want us to do these things; he’s just proving how helpless we are without him,” we full-heartedly agree. This makes sense to us.
But if we begin by asking “what does this scripture passage say about the character of God?” the scripture begins to look very different. We are still called to follow Christ’s instructions, but these instructions become a reaction to God’s character.
Christ tells us that we are to do all of these things so that we “may be sons of [our] Father who is in heaven.” What is our Father like? “He makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” When we “turn the other cheek” and “go two miles,” we are not sacrificing our well-being to earn God’s approval; we are imitating what our Father has already done and continues to do.
A Bible passage is always more than a series of do’s and don’ts. It fits inside of a context, and that context is key to showing that do’s and don’ts exist in the first place. In the case of this passage, the do’s and don’ts for human beings fit into the wider context of God’s character. It turns out that this is not primarily a passage about us at all, but instead about God.
In Matthew 5:48, for example, Jesus says, “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” When we hear perfect, we think of someone who has never done wrong. While this is true—God has never done wrong—this is not the correct meaning for “perfect” in this passage.
The actual Greek word used here is, “τέλειοι,” meaning “to reach its end” or “to be complete.” In other words, God is like a flower in full bloom—he is fully mature and cannot possibly become any more perfect.
What does this perfection look like? It looks like treating all people the same—regardless of whether they do right or wrong. Whatever God is met with, he responds to in kindness. God…
…does not resist the one who is evil.
…turns the other cheek when he is slapped on one cheek.
…lets the one who sues him for his shirt have his cloak as well.
…walks two miles with the man who forces him to walk one mile.
…gives to the one who begs from him, and does not refuse the one who would borrow from him.
…loves his enemies and prays for those who persecute him
How do we know he does this? Because Christ, himself, shows us this.
These actions all begin with God—through Jesus—and we follow these actions so that we might be children of our Father. Jesus showed us what we would be like if we were not born into sin. When he died on the cross, he showed us what it truly means to be human.
“Okay,” we think. “But I’d never be able to do that.”
If that’s the case, this scripture brings us good news. When Jesus says we are called to be perfect, he means that it is time to start growing up. We do not have to act like children forever. When we slap people who slap us, when we turn away from the people who beg of us, when we slander our enemies, we are being childish. God is calling us to grow up in this passage.
When Christ died on the cross, he did not only forgive us; he gave us the grace to help us grow up fully and become like him.