Prayer and Meditation for Wednesday, June 14, 2017 — “Not that of ourselves we are qualified to take credit for anything as coming from us: rather, our qualification comes from God.”

Wednesday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 361

Reading 1 2 COR 3:4-11

Brothers and sisters:
Such confidence we have through Christ toward God.
Not that of ourselves we are qualified to take credit
for anything as coming from us
rather, our qualification comes from God,
who has indeed qualified us as ministers of a new covenant,
not of letter but of spirit;
for the letter brings death, but the Spirit gives life.

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, was so glorious
that the children of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses
because of its glory that was going to fade,
how much more will the ministry of the Spirit be glorious?
For if the ministry of condemnation was glorious,
the ministry of righteousness will abound much more in glory.
Indeed, what was endowed with glory
has come to have no glory in this respect
because of the glory that surpasses it.
For if what was going to fade was glorious,
how much more will what endures be glorious.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 99:5, 6, 7, 8, 9

R. (see 9c) Holy is the Lord our God.
Extol the LORD, our God,
and worship at his footstool;
holy is he!
R. Holy is the Lord our God.
Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
and Samuel, among those who called upon his name;
they called upon the LORD, and he answered them.
R. Holy is the Lord our God.
From the pillar of cloud he spoke to them;
they heard his decrees and the law he gave them.
R. Holy is the Lord our God.
O LORD, our God, you answered them;
a forgiving God you were to them,
though requiting their misdeeds.
R. Holy is the Lord our God.
Extol the LORD, our God,
and worship at his holy mountain;
for holy is the LORD, our God.
R. Holy is the Lord our God.

Alleluia  PS 25:4B, 5A

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Teach me your paths, my God,
and guide me in your truth.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel  MT 5:17-19

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
will pass from the law,
until all things have taken place.
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments
and teaches others to do so
will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”


Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
14 JUNE, 2017, Wednesday, 11th Week, Ordinary Time

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 2 Cor 3:4-11; Ps 98:5-9; Mt 5:17-19 ]

Christianity is perceived by most people as a Western religion, especially by people from the East.  This is understandable especially when Christian Faith is clothed with a Western culture in her practices, laws, customs, liturgy, images and ceremonies.  Yet in truth, Christianity theologically and liturgically is inherently more Jewish than Western.  It must be said in no uncertain terms that Christian Faith transcends all cultures, even though it is expressed in a particular culture.  Truth can be expressed differently according to the language of the people and dressed differently in terms of expression.  This is of great importance especially in the work of the New Evangelization when we are called to permeate all cultures with the Christian gospel and the Spirit of Christ.

However, we must be watchful of illegitimate inculturation.  There are some over-enthusiastic believers who seek to inculturate the Christian Faith into their cultures but instead of merely adopting the language and customs, unwittingly import some of the values of these cultures that are alien or even opposed to the gospel.  When there is an attempt to impose the faith of other religions and the values of their cultures which are opposed to the Spirit of the gospel, such inculturation will harm and dilute the truth of the Christian Faith rather than help to make the gospel known to all.

Hence, the principle of a legitimate inculturation must be based on the Spirit of the Gospel.  This is what Jesus meant when He declared, “Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets.  I have come not to abolish but to complete them.  I tell you solemnly, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke, shall disappear from the Law until its purpose is achieved.”    How could Jesus who broke so many laws, including the Sabbath Law, claim that He has come to complete the Law, not abolish them?  Does it mean that we have to observe all the Old Testament Laws and all the New Testament laws as well?   Indeed, what He is saying is that He has come to perfect the Law, which is the Spirit of the Law.

It must be noted that there are four kinds of laws.  We have the ceremonial, sacrificial and liturgical laws.  Such laws could be altered with time and according to the custom. Then we have civil and social laws which govern proper relationships between persons so that justice is served for all and there will be peace and harmony.  Then we have moral laws which are commandments from God.  Such laws are based on nature and some on divine revelation.  Thus they are absolute and are binding at all times.  There is no compromise when it comes to moral laws, even though many Christians have adulterated the moral laws to suit their licentious lifestyle.  Finally, we have doctrinal laws which are revealed also by God.  Such doctrines, especially dogma, cannot be changed because they are based on divine revelation.  Doctrinal laws however require the gift of faith to recognize them as coming from God.  Hence, we cannot impose our doctrines on those who have not arrived at faith.

So fidelity to the Law is to be faithful to the Spirit of these laws, especially when all laws are ultimately meant to help us to worship God and to love our brothers and sisters.  The Spirit of the Law is the Spirit of love.  So why is it necessary to ask ourselves whether these laws help us to love God and our fellowmen?  Are these laws life-giving and empowering and do they truly set us free for authentic love of God and our neighbours?   Jesus is against those laws and customs that delimit charity towards others.  He is also against those laws that are observed blindly and meticulously without observing the true spirit of the laws.

But it is not enough to insist on observing the Spirit of the Law; we need the Law of the Spirit.  Christian perfection of the Law does not rest here.  The truth remains that we cannot observe the Letter of the Law, and even if we do, we cannot always observe the Spirit of the Law.  Only the Holy Spirit can empower us to do what Jesus did.  The Holy Spirit is the inner principle of the Law.   Indeed, St Paul made it clear that all his achievements were not because of himself and his efforts but purely the work of the grace of the Holy Spirit.  He did not boast about himself but what the Holy Spirit did in and through him.  “Before God, we are confident of this through Christ: not that we are qualified in ourselves to claim anything as our own work: all our qualifications come from God.  He is the one who has given us the qualifications to be the administrators of this new covenant, which is not a covenant of written letters but of the Spirit.”

Indeed, the written letters, that is, the laws written on tablets cannot transform us. They remain extraneous to us.  Worst of all, the laws only show us where we have failed and thereby condemn us.  That is why “the written letters bring death, but the Spirit gives life.” How does the Spirit give life?

Firstly, the Spirit, which is the love of God, forgives us our sins and heals us of our brokenness. Through the Holy Spirit, we feel loved and forgiven. St Paul said, “For if there was any splendour in administering condemnation, there must be very much greater splendour in administering justification.” Christians observe the laws not to save themselves.   We are saved and justified in Christ.  Rather, these laws are seen as moral codes to guide Christians to live the life of the gospel and the life of the Spirit.  Observance of the laws cannot justify us but living the life of the Spirit and the observance of the laws indicate that we are truly justified in Christ because He has changed us.

Secondly, the Holy Spirit as the inner principle enables to see everything through the perspective of Christ. He gives us a deeper insight into recognizing the spirit of the laws.  The point of departure therefore is never the laws but of Christ.  Through our faith in Christ, we see ourselves as the image and likeness of God, the adopted children of our heavenly Father.  We observe the laws not out of fear but out of reverence, conviction and love for our heavenly Father.  So it is not mere external performance of the laws but an inner transformation of the heart.

Finally, the Holy Spirit gives us the capacity to do what Jesus did.  He is the engine that propels us to complete His work.  Hence, St Paul remarked,  “Now if the administering of death, in the written letters engraved on stones, was accompanied by such a brightness that the Israelites could not bear looking at the face of Moses, though it was a brightness that faded, then how much greater will be the brightness that surrounds the administering of the Spirit!” Only faith in Christ brings about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which gives the inner strength to do the right thing.

In this way, we enter the kingdom of God, that is, to share in the life and love of God.  This is why Jesus said, “Therefore the man who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of heaven; but the man who keeps them and teaches them will be considered great in the kingdom of heaven.”  When we do the will of God, we share in God’s life.  Observance of the laws in love and for love fulfills the law of Christ.  As St Paul wrote, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Rom 13:8-10)

Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore

Commentary on Matthew 5:17-19 From Living Space

In Matthew’s gospel especially, Jesus is shown as not being a maverick breakaway from the traditions of the Jews. He was not a heretic or a blasphemer. He was the last in the great line of prophets sent by God to his people. “Last of all God sent his Son.” And so, in today’s passage, he strongly emphasises that it is not his intention to abrogate the Jewish law but rather to develop and complete it. In the verses that immediately follow today’s passage Jesus gives six very clear examples of what he means. He quotes a number of moral situations contained in the Law and shows how he expects his followers not only to observe them but to go much further in understanding their underlying meaning.

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The Law is not to be downgraded in any way; rather it is to be transcended to a higher level. Up to the time of Jesus, and this is clearly exemplified in the Pharisees and Scribes as they appear in the gospels, perfect observance of the Law focused on external observance. Jesus will show that true observance must also be in the heart and mind.

Christians, too, can become obsessed with external observance of Church laws and regulations. It can become a source of scrupulosity and fear. This can happen during the Lenten season when we are encouraged to do ‘penitential acts’. We need to remember that these acts do not stand on their own and only have meaning if they deepen our relationship with God. In all things, our ultimate guide must be the law of love. No truly loving act can ever be sinful, although at times it may violate the letter of a law.



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Prayer and Meditation for Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Dt 4:1,5-9; Ps 147:12-13,15-16,19-20; MT 5:17-19]

In the early Church, today’s mass was recommended for the Catechumens’ First Scrutiny before entering the Catholic Faith.  It was a necessary test before they could be accepted for baptism.  This first test concerns obedience to the laws.  Unless the Catechumens were ready to embrace the laws of God as taught in the scripture and especially by Christ, they could not be admitted into the faith. The litmus test that they must ratify is their desire to observe the commandments so that they might have life.

This was the same test that God gave to the people through Moses.  God was fully aware that once they entered the Promised Land, they would be surrounded by pagan neighbours. They would begin to mix with the original inhabitants.  Some inculturation would take place even in the area of worship of God.  They would be tempted by the Canaanites’ fertility gods and thereby forsake the God of the Exodus once they settled into a sedentary and agricultural life.   Furthermore, the Promised Land was a fertile land, a land filled with honey.  As they grew rich, they would be tempted to fall away from God, as most people do when they become rich and successful.  Success will get into their heads, and they will become arrogant and independent from God. In the light of the impending challenges, the Lord also warned them of the test before them; Moses said, “And now, Israel, take notice of the laws and customs that I teach you today, and observe them, that you may have life and may enter and take possession of the land that the Lord the God of your fathers is giving you. See, as the Lord my God has commanded me, I teach you the laws and customs that you are to observe in the land you are to enter and make your own.”

Since Moses used the word, “today” it also means that his instruction is still valid for us all.  Unless we observe the commandments of God, we will not have the fullness of life.  This was what Jesus said as well,  “Therefore, the man who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of heaven; but the man who keeps them and teaches them will be considered great in the kingdom of heaven.”   To enter into the Promised Land at Easter, we must return to the Laws of God, observe them so that we might have life.

But what is it that hinders us from being obedient to the laws of God?  Simply, it is because we have separated the laws from the person of God.  When the laws are separated from God Himself, the laws become an existence unto its own, alienated from life.  The laws become harsh, cold and burdensome.  This was what happened in the history of religions.  The laws were meant to help Israel live a harmonious and happy life.  But they either forsook the laws or became self-righteous, like the Pharisees and the scribes during the time of Jesus.  When laws are detached from God Himself, they become simply a set of rules, just like the laws in the civil courts or any organization.  In other words, the spirit of the laws is lost.

Now, the point is that the Spirit of the laws is identified with God.  He is the lawgiver.  The laws are not distinct from God Himself because He is the law.  His word is identical to Himself.  God expressed Himself therefore in Christ Jesus who is the Incarnated Word.  In Christ, God speaks completely and fully, not just in the words but in the being, life, conduct and actions of Jesus.  Thus, we say that Jesus is the Word of God.  By extension, we also say that the bible is the Word of God.  We have reverence for the Bible simply because it is God who is revered through the scriptures.  The laws of God are His wisdom and His fatherly advice to all His children, just like the words of our parents.  They are meant for our good and not to make our lives miserable.   They are meant to guide us to live fully.

Truly, the laws of God are the expression of His wisdom and concern for us.  “Keep them, observe them, and they will demonstrate to the peoples your wisdom and understanding. When they come to know of all these laws they will exclaim, ‘No other people is as wise and prudent as this great nation.’”  Just as parents, elders and statesmen pass on their knowledge and wisdom to their children through the sharing of their lives, their biography and the truths that they learnt, not just through study but through life itself, so too the laws of God are meant to be wisdom for His people so that they would not make the mistakes that others had before them. 

Indeed, God comes close to us when we observe His laws. This was what Moses said. “And indeed, what great nation is there that has its gods so near as the Lord our God is to us whenever we call to him? And what great nation is there that has laws and customs to match this whole Law that I put before you today?”  Through the laws, God comes into our lives as He guides us through them.  The psalmist rejoiced, “He sends out his word to the earth and swiftly runs his command.  He showers down snow white as wool, he scatters hoar-frost like ashes.  He makes his word known to Jacob, to Israel his laws and decrees.  He has not dealt thus with other nations; he has not taught them his decrees.”  To give us His laws is to give us Himself in person.

The test of the truth of the wisdom of His laws is in observing them.  Moses told the people. “Israel, take notice of the laws and customs that I teach you today, and observe them, that you may have life and may enter and take possession of the land that the Lord the God of your fathers is giving you.”  When we are obedient to the laws of God, there will be justice, charity and harmony among all peoples.  The Decalogue is given as the basic principles of life that everyone must observe at its minimum.  Beyond these Ten Commandments, the rest are elaboration for specific circumstances.  Of course, Jesus gave us His principles of life Himself, not in terms of prohibitions but in a positive and proactive manner, as in the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount, and the call to love one another as He has loved us.


Thus, the key to observing the laws of God joyfully and not slavishly is when we are conscious that observing the laws of God is to love Him and to love our neighbours and ourselves.  Only those who know God and His love will learn to trust Him even when they do not understand the laws and its implication as this point of time.  It is like children obeying their parents.  When they are young, before they reach the age of understanding and reasoning, they simply obey their parents because they believe that their parents know best.  They even observe those rules that they do not understand, because they know that these are meant for their well-being.  Furthermore, observing the rules is the way they demonstrate their love for their parents, since these rules are in many ways an expression of their parents’ wisdom and conviction in life.

So if we want to find strength to observe the laws, we must rediscover the love of God.  His love must come first before the laws.  Indeed, these laws were given to the Israelites only after they had encountered the power of the Lord, His mercy and love in the Exodus.  For this reason, Moses gave an adjunction to the laws, “But take care what you do and be on your guard. Do not forget the things your eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your heart all the days of your life; rather, tell them to your children and your children’s children.”   In other words, cut off from the love of God as demonstrated at the Exodus, observing the laws do not make sense and become a burden.  No longer are they observed purely out of love for God who identifies Himself with the laws.

Jesus is for us the exemplar of what it means to observe the laws.  He stated categorically in no uncertain terms, “Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them. I tell you solemnly, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke, shall disappear from the Law until its purpose is achieved.”  We must not think that Jesus was a lawless person.  Although He broke some of the religious laws and customs, it was done to recover the spirit of the laws, not the letter of the laws.  Jesus came to perfect the observance of the laws by linking obedience with love.   Without love, obedience is a burden. When laws are carried out with love for the person and not the laws themselves, we become more humane and more compassionate.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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James Tissot, Woe unto You, Scribes and Pharisees, Brooklyn Museum
Reflection on Matthew 5:17-19

Do you remember the old Star Trek television series? It captured the imagination of an entire generation when it first came out. The crew of the starship USS Enterprise endeavored on a five–year mission—“to boldly go where no man has gone before.” “Go beyond!” That was the mission of the starship Enterprise and its crew. And each episode recounted their experiences as they boldly went forth.

Perhaps you’ve wished to live a Sci–Fi life. Work, school, church, and even your marriage and kids are a bit monotonous. There’s part of you that would like to embark on a Star Trek–like adventure. Yet, you realize this is fictitious. (It is fictitious, right?) Closer to our galaxy, have you ever longed to go beyond the natural realm? Do you aspire to live a supernatural life above your present circumstances? If so, the Bible has a definitive word for you. In Matthew 5:17–20, Jesus urges you and me to boldly go where we have never gone before. In these four verses, Jesus helps us understand how the commands of the Old Testament apply to our lives.1 In short, Jesus says, “We must go above and beyond.”

1. Fulfill the Law through Jesus (5:17–18). In this first section, we are called to recognize that Jesus has fulfilled the Old Testament. In 5:17, Jesus begins by saying, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets [the Old Testament2]; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” This verse is one of the most important verses in the Bible. For here Jesus explains one of the reasons that He came to earth—He came to fulfill the entire Old Testament.3 Jesus’ first words are: “Do not think.”4Being the world’s greatest teacher, Jesus liked to clear up possible misunderstandings. Jesus is responding to the erroneous view that He came to “abolish” the Old Testament. Obviously, this is utter nonsense! The Old Testament was the Bible of the early church and it remains the only way that we can properly interpret the New Testament. Instead of abolishing the Old Testament, Jesus says, “I came” or “I have come”5 to point to His mission to fulfill the Old Testament.6 God’s Word was essential to the personal mission of Jesus’ life. Is this true for you as well? What role does God’s Word play in your goals, perspectives, and convictions? Do you run your life through the grid of the Scriptures?

Jesus states that He did not come to “abolish” the Old Testament. “Abolish” (kataluo) is a very strong word. In its other three usages in Matthew, the verb is used of demolishing a temple.7Jesus says, “I didn’t come to demolish the Old Testament”; instead, I came to “fulfill” it.8 The question is, “What did Jesus mean by the word fulfill?” This is one of the most debated questions in the New Testament. Yet, three points flesh out Jesus’ meaning.9

Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. The word “fulfill” (pleroo) occurs numerous times in Matthew, and it normally means “to bring to its intended meaning.”10 “Fulfill” does not mean “to bring to an end.” Rather, it means, “to fill out, expand, or complete.”11 Concerning the Old Testament, we could say that Jesus “filled it up” or “filled it full” with meaning.12 Whether we study the furnishings of the temple, probe the messianic passages in the Psalms, or delve into the details of Isaiah 53, we see Jesus Christ. Just as the fetus is fulfilled in the adult human, so Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament.13 We could go so far as to say that the primary purpose of the Old Testament is to point to Christ.14 Therefore, Jesus does not contradict the Old Testament; He’s the culmination of it. The entire Old Testament points to Jesus and will be fulfilled in Him, down to the smallest detail.15

My wife, Lori, is an amazing artist. She will often pencil sketch various people and animals and then allow our children to color them in. Similarly, the Old Testament is the pencil sketch and Jesus is the portrait.16 When we color in the lines of the Old Testament, we can clearly and beautifully see Jesus. Have you sought to color in the pencil sketch of the Old Testament? Have you seen your Savior as you have read the Old Testament?

Jesus’ death fulfilled the Old Testament Law.17 The Law prescribed a system of sacrifices to deal with sin. For 1500 years, day after day, week after week, and especially year after year, the people brought their sacrifices. These offerings signified that sin brings punishment and only death and blood could release someone from that punishment. Those thousands of dead animals pointed forward to a sacrifice. That’s why John the Baptizer exclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).18 Through Jesus’ sinless life and sacrificial death, the penalty for sin has been paid. Christ provided a way of salvation that meets all Old Testament requirements and demands (Rom 3:21, 31).19When you believe in Christ as your Savior, you have fulfilled the Law and will not suffer the eternal consequences of breaking the Law. If you have never placed your faith in Christ’s death for your sins, please do so right now. The price has been paid; all you have to do is receive the provision God has made.

Jesus’ teaching fulfilled the Old Testament Law. In Deuteronomy 18:15–20, Moses prophesied that God would speak anew through a prophet like himself. The teaching of Jesus fleshes out and reveals the full depth of meaning in the Old Testament.20 Jesus was the final Interpreter of and Authority over the Law and its meaning, as other passages in Matthew indicate. Jesus restated some of the Old Testament Laws (19:18–19), but some He modified (5:31–32). Some He intensified (5:21–22, 27–28), and others He changed significantly (5:33–37, 38–42, 43–47). Some Laws He abrogated entirely (Mark 7:15–19). Jesus was not advocating the continuation of the traditional Jewish approach of adherence to the Law. Nor was He advocating that the Law be dismissed altogether. He was proclaiming that the meaning of the Law must be interpreted in light of His coming and in light of the profound changes introduced by His teaching.21

At this juncture, perhaps you are nodding your head and uttering hearty amen’s. “Yes, that’s right brother, we are not under law but under grace!” Now before you get too excited, you must recognize that although we are not under the Old Testament Law that doesn’t mean we are not under any law. I think about the young man who was tired of his parents’ rules about curfews, grooming, and chores around the house. He said, “I can’t wait until I’m old enough to get out of here so that I can join the Marines.” Poor guy! He was about to trade one set of rules for a different and, in many ways, stricter set of rules.22 In Matt 5:21–48, we will see that Jesus fills up and intensifies the meaning of many of the Old Testament Laws.

Jesus life, death, and teaching completely fulfilled the Old Testament Law. Consequently, every aspect of the Old Testament must be seen, interpreted, and lived out in the light of Jesus Christ.23 Think of a powerful searchlight scanning over the night sky. The way this light works is that a relatively small source of light is passed through a great lens, which magnifies it into a powerful radiance that spreads over the sky. Now, think of a laser beam. Here, the energy source is concentrated; its power source is transformed into a light of razor–sharp intensity. In Christ, the Law becomes both a searchlight and a laser. When the Law passes through the person and work of Christ, it is both focused and enlarged; its potential to illumine and guide us is both amplified and intensified.24 In light of this, we must go above and beyond.

In 5:18, Jesus explains the duration of the Law when He declares, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not25 the smallest letter or stroke26 shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”27 The phrase, “For truly I say to you” or “I tell you the truth”28 is an authoritative statement backed up by all that Jesus is.29When we want to emphasize a statement we often say, “Now mark my words.” Jesus said that when it comes to the Bible, we can mark not only the words as true, but also every letter and even the smallest portions of letters. In other words, the Bible is binding, authoritative, and dependable. One implication of this is that to reject the Bible is to reject Jesus and accuse Him of being a liar! Many people who want to claim Jesus don’t want to accept the Bible as His Word. But Jesus ruled out that option when He tied His life and ministry to the fulfillment of Scripture.30

In 5:18, Jesus gives two lessons on the longevity and reliability of the Old Testament: one in astronomy and the other in penmanship.31 First, Jesus deals in astronomy. In this context “heaven” is describing the universe that God created. “Until heaven and earth pass away” is a vivid way of saying as long as this world lasts.32 The clause “until heaven and earth pass away” is qualified by the further clause “until all is accomplished.” Whatever was prophesied about in the Old Testament was temporary and would be fulfilled by Jesus Christ and His future kingdom.33

After gazing at the universe through a telescope, Christ examines the Law’s penmanship with a microscope.34Jesus argues that “not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” This statement by Christ provides us with one of the strongest affirmations in the Bible of the inerrancy of Scripture. Since Jesus is referring to the Old Testament, it is likely that in this penmanship lesson He is reflecting on the Hebrew language. The “smallest letter” of the Hebrew alphabet is the letter yodh.35 It is about the size of an apostrophe. The “stroke” refers to a serif, a minute distinguishing mark at the end of a Hebrew letter. In English, this would be akin to the tiny stroke that distinguishes a capital O and a capital Q. Jesus is saying that every dot or comma in the Bible is inspired by God. Furthermore, Christ’s lesson about letters is His emphatic way of saying that the Law and all its teachings will continue. What Jesus does and teaches complies with the Old Testament; but more, He completes the Old Testament.36 Those who have believed in Christ have through Him met all the requirements of the Law.37 Therefore, if we want to live a supernatural life, we must go above and beyond. This can only occur when we depend on the perfect righteousness of Christ.

[The Law was fulfilled in Jesus. Now we are exhorted to practically experience this fulfillment in our own individual lives.]

2. Follow the commandments of Jesus (5:19–20). Jesus moves from talking about the Law and the Prophets to talking about the kingdom. The way that we can live an “above and beyond life” is by believing in Christ and then seeking to obey Him. In 5:19, Jesus says, “Whoever then38annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he [or she] shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”39 There are several observations that are worth noting in this verse. First, the word “whoever” is a general all–encompassing term that applies to every disciple.40 This means that you and I must grapple with this verse. Second, Jesus’ use of the phrase “these commandments” does not refer to the Old Testament commandments (5:17–18). Rather, this is referring to the commandments found in the Sermon on the Mount.41 Jesus has already mentioned a few (5:13–14), and in 5:21–48, He gives six examples of how His commands “fulfill” the Law.42 (We will look at these commandments as we progress in our series.) Third, Jesus distinguishes between disciples in His eternal kingdom.43 The kingdom of heaven is not going to be a classless society. Some people will be greater than others. Some will be called “great,” and others will be called “least.”44 This means that some individuals will have a higher standing than others. Everyone will not be equal.45 But please notice that disobedient disciples are still in the kingdom of heaven. Even those who break Jesus’ commandments and teach others to do the same have the free gift of eternal life that cannot be lost. This is dependent, however, upon placing one’s faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Fourth, heavenly distinctions are determined by our view of the Scriptures. Our attitude toward the Scriptures brings smallness or greatness, honor or disgrace. We have two equations here: Disobedience + Deception = Dishonor and Obedience + Instruction = Honor. Specifically, how well you obey and teach the Scriptures determines your reward in the kingdom.46Finally, Jesus is the one who calls His disciples “great” or “least.”47Part of the reward of faithfulness is one’s eventual reputation. Our reputation, our name, what we’re “called” will be a part of our eternal reward. Jesus Himself will be the one who specifies that certain persons in the kingdom are great—and that is part of the point. You and I should live in such a way that God will regard us as great subjects of His kingdom. We must live above and beyond.

So let me ask you: What value do you place on God’s Word? How much of a “stickler” are you in your obedience to the Word? Greatness in Christ’s kingdom depends on maintaining a high view of Scripture. Your view of Scripture is the single greatest predictor of your spiritual health. If you love God’s Word and are applying it in your life, you are likely to be sound in every other area of your life. John Wesley (1703–1791), the founder of Methodism, said, “I am a Bible–bigot. I follow it in all things, both great and small.”48 Like Wesley, are you a Bible–bigot or are you a cafeteria Christian—picking and choosing what entrees appeal to you? I challenge you today to become an even greater man or woman of the Word. Here are some ideas to consider as you pursue this goal.49

  • Throw away your “Read through the Bible in a Year” programs. Before you label me a heretic, please recognize the need for baby steps. Many Christians bite off more than they can chew and end up feeling like failures. As a result, they give up on Bible reading because it doesn’t seem to work for their schedules. But who says you need to read the Bible through in a year? Since it took 1600 years to write, what’s the big hurry? Why not take two years to read the Bible instead of one? Why not spend four months on the Psalms and three months on Proverbs? Today, spend a bit of time in God’s Word. Shoot for five minutes, six days a week. Honestly, that is better than reading thirty minutes on one day of the week. Just take baby steps and see if your appetite grows. The Psalmist declares that God’s Word is “sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb” (Ps 19:10). Sure sounds better than a plateful of broccoli, doesn’t it?
  • Read the Bible in an understandable version. The New American Standard Bible Update that I preach from is designed for those with a twelfth-grade reading level. Admittedly, it is blocky, choppy, and at times awkwardly translated. However, when it comes to studying and preaching the Word, accuracy trumps readability. But when you are reading the Bible, it may be helpful to choose a version that isn’t so difficult to read. I would recommend the New Living Translation, New International Version, Contemporary English Version, and Today’s English Version. These Bibles are designed for those who have a reading level of approximately seventh-grade. They are fluid and easy to follow. If you have used a more literal version, these other versions can be a welcomed breath of fresh air that will bring the familiar Scriptures to life once again.
  • Read the Bible observantly. Perhaps you like detective and crime shows like I do. If so, when you read the Bible, look for clues that will help you see Jesus anew and afresh. Strive to grasp details that most people would not detect. When you read a passage, ask yourself “who, what, when, where, why, and how” questions. This will bring a new level of excitement to your Bible reading. Don’t just read a chapter a day to keep the devil away; read to discover. I have found that the best Bible students I know are the ones that ask the best questions. Take your time and simply pour over the Scriptures like a detective searching out clues and looking for evidence.
  • Learn to interpret the Bible correctly. There are several fundamental rules to apply in Bible study. (1) Pay careful attention to the context. (2) Look up key words. (3) Compare the passage you are studying with other Scriptures. (4) Consult scholars and other Bible students. Use commentaries and learn from other men and women in the church. Test your interpretations out on other believers to be sure that you’re not on the verge of starting your own cult of one.
  • Make application the goal of your Bible study. You would never think about eating without chewing. Reading the Bible without applying is like eating without chewing. We must always ask this question: How does the biblical truth that I have studied impact my life? Remember, the goal of Bible study is not just to inform, but to transform. These five suggestions will help you progress in your love for God’s Word. My prayer for you is that in your Bible study you go above and beyond.

Jesus concludes this passage in 5:20 with the key to the Sermon on the Mount: “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses50 that of the scribes and Pharisees,51 you will not52 enter the kingdom of heaven.” Stop and feel the weight of these words. This statement is a shocker! During Jesus’ ministry on earth, the scribes and Pharisees were considered to be the most holy and righteous people on earth.53 They were clergy, the professional do-gooders. So Jesus’ declaration is like saying, “Unless you are a greater philanthropist than Mother Theresa and a greater evangelist than Billy Graham and a greater social reformer than Martin Luther King and a greater prophet than Muhammad and more peaceable than Gandhi and wiser than Confucius and more holy than the Pope, you’re not getting into heaven, period.” Whew! What do you do with that?

We must recognize that the scribes and Pharisees prayed, fasted, tithed, and lived according to the rules. They were pretty good at obeying the external requirements of God’s Law, but they didn’t meet the punch line of the Sermon on the Mount.54 That comes in 5:48: “Therefore, you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This takes the statement of 5:20 to its logical conclusion. God requires perfection—not relative perfection, where the standard is other people. The standard is God Himself—the kind of moral perfection that God Himself exhibits. This demand for perfection includes our internal thoughts, motives, and attitudes. This is where the scribes and Pharisees failed. They thought that religious performance made them acceptable to God. Yet, Jesus says that when we stand before God, we’ve got to do better than that. Jesus is not talking about beating the scribes and Pharisees at their own game, but about a different type of righteousness altogether.55 Entering into the kingdom has nothing to do with keeping the rules like the scribes and Pharisees.56 It has to do with Jesus Christ fulfilling the rules for you. No person apart from Christ can produce the righteousness that God commands. In kind, it is His kind; in degree, it is what mathematicians would call “the nth degree.” It is beyond calculation! Without God’s kind of righteousness, no one will enter the kingdom of heaven.57 We are sinners in need of a perfect Savior.

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One Response to “Prayer and Meditation for Wednesday, June 14, 2017 — “Not that of ourselves we are qualified to take credit for anything as coming from us: rather, our qualification comes from God.””

  1. daveyone1 Says:

    Reblogged this on World Peace Forum.

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