16 “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (Matthew 6:16–18, NKJV).
After elaborating on prayer’s motive, method, and manner in Matthew 6:5-15, Jesus returns to the motives of personal piety in today’s passage. Fasting often accompanied prayer. Like prayer, hypocrites used fasting as their chance to be praised by others for their voluntary deprivation and affliction of the soul. While not commanded under the new covenant, fasting was (is) a period of intense spiritual devotion. It was associated with recognizing one’s sin with godly sorrow and repentance (Nineveh, Jonah 3:5-10; Luke 11:32; Saul, Acts 9:9-11). The broader principle Jesus taught applies to every action of self-sacrifice. Instead of bragging and displaying religious practices to be praised by others, we aim to please the eyes of our heavenly Father. The reward of human praise momentarily feeds pride and fades quickly. But attentive, faithful service to the Lord will be evident and eternally rewarded. When we love the praise of men more than the praise of God, we confess ourselves, not Christ (John 12:42-43). So, go about your daily service to the Lord without regard for whether others see you. The Father sees you, and that is enough.
27 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:27–28, NKJV).”
Jesus challenges us to get to the heart of the matter when identifying and turning away from sin. Of course, adultery remains a sin as it was under the Law of Moses (Exod. 20:14; Rom. 13:9). Even the first covenant called on Israel to love the Lord God with all their heart (Deut. 6:5). Jesus drills down to the root of this (and every) sin; the heart’s desires and impulses (1 John 2:15-17). Lustful looks at a woman are adultery in the heart, and so is the act. The heart is the source of sin. Sin lurks in the recesses of the heart’s desires, emotions, and motives (Gen. 4:7; Matt. 15:19-20). God’s word has the power to pierce the heart and reach its thoughts and intents (Heb. 4:12). By doing so, it convicts us of our sins and calls us to repent (change our heart, Acts 2:37-38; 26:20). Jesus vividly described the severity of repentance: “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell (Matt. 5:29–30).” Jesus will forgive our sins when we repent (Acts 17:30; Matt. 11:28-30). And drastic steps are necessary to repent to avoid sin’s eternal punishment.
6 “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!” (Matthew 18:6–7, NASB95)
A stumbling block (Gr. skandalon) is a “trap-stick” (G4625). It is “the moveable stick or tricker (“trigger”) of a trap” (Thayer, 577). Thus, a stumbling block is “any impediment placed in the way and causing one to stumble or fall” (Thayer). It is an enticement to sin. Jesus warned against becoming the “cause” (stumbling block, v. 6) that lures and captures another person in sin. We must not entice others to sin. Solomon warned his son to avoid the enticements of sinners (Prov. 1:10). But today’s passage warns against becoming the enticer of others. The apostle Paul explained that even a sinless act (like eating meat previously dedicated to an idol) becomes a stumbling block when it leads the weak in conscience (toward eating such meat) to eat in violation of his scruple (1 Cor. 8:4-13). Being a stumbling block is a “sin against the brethren” and a “sin against Christ” (1 Cor. 8:12). Therefore, Paul would forego his liberty to eat meat to avoid being a stumbling block (1 Cor. 8:13). Jesus said the punishment for being a stumbling block is worse than being drowned in the sea (Matt. 18:7). Woeful punishment awaits those who are impediments to righteousness and enticements to sin (Matt. 18:7). Love does not harm a neighbor (Rom. 13:10). Therefore, love carefully avoids becoming the cause of someone else’s sin (Rom. 13:8).
24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin (Romans 7:24–25, NKJV).
In Romans 7:14-25, the apostle Paul uses himself to portray the person who is under law, under sin. He is lost, outside of Christ, being ruled by sin. His spiritual condition is “wretched” (miserable, afflicted, impure). He is shrouded in spiritual death as he serves sin (Rom. 7:24; 6:16, 23). This condition describes every person lost and outside of Christ (Rom. 3:23). Who can rescue the wretched person from the bondage of sin’s rule and the death it brings? (1) The sinner cannot save himself. He is dead because of his sin (Rom. 7:9). (2) Another sinner cannot save a sinner. Both are guilty before God and worthy of death (Rom. 6:23). (3) The law of God that the sinner violated cannot save him. It indicts and convicts him as guilty (Rom. 7:13-14; 3:19-20). (4) More sin will not save the sinner. Giving in to sin only increases guilt, imprisoning the soul in evil (Rom. 7:14-21). (5) Only Jesus Christ our Lord can deliver us from the body of death caused by sin (Rom. 7:25; 5:6-11; Acts 4:12). We escape sin’s condemnation and obtain life in Christ by choosing not to “walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:1-2). Christ’s gospel is God’s power to save the wretched soul from sin’s guilt, pain, and death (Rom. 1:16-17). The gospel calls us to believe, repent, and be baptized into Christ to escape the misery and eternal death caused by sin (Rom. 6:3-11; Heb. 5:9).
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants’” (Luke 15:17–19, NKJV).
The change of heart that led to merciful forgiveness in the parable of the wasteful son is well known. God is ready to receive back every sinner who comes to himself. God’s divine mercy impelled Solomon to pray about Israel coming to itself after sinning against the Lord. While dedicating the temple, Solomon petitioned God to hear the prayers of His people after their sins brought His anger and punishment upon them (1 Kings 8:46). He prayed, “Yet when they come to themselves in the land where they were carried captive, and repent, and make supplication to You…saying, ‘We have sinned and done wrong, we have committed wickedness’; and when they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul…grant them compassion…” (1 Kings 8:47-53). God is ready to forgive us and receive us with loving compassion when we decide to come to ourselves and repent. Coming to ourselves about our sins takes admitting them (to ourselves and God, Ps. 51:3-4). It takes turning our hearts and lives back to God. Repentance leading to salvation is more than being sorry for sin. It is a radical change of heart that leads us to obey God instead of sin (2 Cor. 7:9-10).
Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ (Colossians 2:8, NKJV).
Paul’s warning against deceivers who would plunder our spiritual treasures in Christ is not new (2 Cor. 11:3-4, 12-15). Let us give attention to “the basic principles of the world” that are not according to Christ and fuel this deception. The basic principles of the world are not the chemical elements that constitute the physical realm (2 Pet. 3:10, 12). They are the fundamental evil elements that oppose God, His purposes, and His truth. They enslave souls to the service of sin (Gal. 4:3). Consider four basic principles of the world: (1) Unbelief. It plunges souls into darkness, ignorance, and alienation from the true and living God (Eph. 4:17-19). Without faith, we cannot please God (Heb. 11:6). (2) The traditions, commands, and doctrines of men. Human philosophies appeal to the intellect, often seem plausible, yet are “empty deceit” that cannot save us and protect us from sin (Col. 2:8, 20-23). (3) Carnality and its works. The evil world is composed of the lusts of the flesh, of the eyes, and life’s pride. These stimulate all manner of works of the flesh (1 John 2:15-17; Gal. 5:19-21). Carnal-mindedness opposes God and causes spiritual death (Rom. 8:5-8). (4) The will of men instead of the will of God (1 Pet. 4:2-3). Elevating our cravings and will above God is a fundamental element of the world. Be encouraged and beware; Do not let anyone plunder your spiritual treasure in Christ (Col. 2:1-3).
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up (1 Corinthians 13:4, NKJV).
Love is enduringly patient. Instead of being short-fused, love is kind while being “long-spirited” (longsuffering) toward another. Truly, God has displayed love’s longsuffering toward us over and over. Even now, while God commands all to repent, He tarries with “longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9; Acts 17:30). When we grasp the nature of God’s longsuffering love, it moves us to obey His command to repent: “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance (Rom. 2:4)?” We must not deceive ourselves into thinking God’s love is so longsuffering that He does not judge and punish unrepented sin. God does not condone and reward sin; that is not genuine love. God’s love has made provisions for the redemption of sinners in the death of His Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:8-11). The gospel calls sinners to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 3:14-21). What loving-kindness God shows us in Christ; He yearns for our salvation. In longsuffering, God continues to plead with sinners through Christ’s gospel to repent and be saved (Acts 2:37-41). May we show this kind of love to one another (John 13:34-35). Kind, longsuffering love opens doors of opportunity to serve each other, strengthen one another, and help save some.
What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin (Romans 3:9, NKJV).
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul established that all people, whether Gentiles or Jews, are sinners (Rom. 3:10-20, 23; 6:23). The extent of sin is universal (“There is none righteous, no, not one;…they have all turned aside,” Rom. 3:10, 12). Thus, all are “under sin” – guilty captives unable to free ourselves from its bondage and death (Gal. 3:22; Rom. 7:24). Sin’s death passes to everyone who sins, not because Adam sinned (Rom. 5:12; Ezek. 18:20). Humanity’s sin (disobedience) against God magnifies His mercy, “that He might have mercy on all” (Rom. 11:32). These simple truths expose the lies of Calvinism. (1) Total heredity depravity is not inherited. Personal sin separates each one from God (Isa. 59:1-3; Ezek. 18:20-24). (2) Unconditional election is a farce since God’s mercy is offered to every sinner in Christ (Rom. 5:15). His invitation to be saved is universal, but unconditional election makes God a tyrant (Matt. 11:28; Mark 16:15-16). (3) Limited atonement neglects that Jesus died “for everyone,” not just the elect (Heb. 2:9). (4) Irresistible grace rests on the false premise we are too corrupt to respond to God’s call to mercy without enabling grace from God to jumpstart faith. Yet, the “gospel of the grace of God” is preached to sinners who choose to resist or repent (Acts 2:36-41; 7:51; 13:44-46). (5) Perseverance of the saints is the baseless expectation that once God saves a sinner, that person cannot fall into sin’s condemnation. Sadly, many rely on the false hope of this false doctrine (Gal. 5:4; Heb. 3:6-19; 6;4-6; 2 Pet. 2:20-22). The gospel of Christ calls sinners to salvation through obedient faith (Rom. 1:16-17; 6:17-18). The doctrines of men leave sinners “under sin,” still needing salvation.
For we will surely die and become like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. Yet God does not take away a life; but He devises means, so that His banished ones are not expelled from Him (2 Samuel 14:14, NKJV).
Absalom, king David’s son, had fled into exile after murdering his brother Amnon in vengeance for raping his sister, Tamar (2 Sam. 13:14, 22, 38-39). Today’s passage records the words of a wise woman whom Joab conscripted to persuade David to let Absalom return from his banishment (2 Sam. 14:1-24). They are poignant and persuasive. Death is coming to us all, and its effects cannot be undone, like so much water spilled on the ground (Heb. 9:27). God is the Giver of life, not the One who wants to take it from us (Gen. 2:7). Likewise, God takes no pleasure in the death of sinners (Ezek. 18:31-32). Sin causes spiritual death (Gen. 2:15; Rom. 6:23). But God, in His great mercy, has devised a plan that gives spiritual life from sin’s death through His Son Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:4-12; 2:1-7). Sin separates us from our heavenly Father, banished from the close fellowship He desires. God calls sinners to come to Him by the gospel of His Son Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:9). David allows Absalom to return from exile. God’s plan of redemption in Christ ends our spiritual banishment to end so we may walk in sweet fellowship with Him (Eph. 2:13; 1 John 1:6-7). Praise be to God for His abundant love and mercy He gives us in Christ Jesus our Lord.
14 For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; 15 and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again (2 Corinthians 5:14–15, NKJV).
The love of Christ compels us, driving us forward to do the will of God. His love compels us to live no longer for ourselves but Christ. When confronted with whether or not to obey the will of the Lord, Christians should not say, “Well, I have to do it” (as though it is a burden to follow Jesus, 1 John 5:3). We ought to say, “I will” because of Christ’s love for us. Paul beautifully described the conversion of thought and life from sinful self-interest to selflessly serving Christ. He said, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Jesus “died for all” when we were dead in sin (v. 14; Rom. 5:8). The selfless sacrifice of Jesus Christ compels us to live for Him and love as He loves us. That means we will “walk in love” and sacrifice ourselves for others as He did (Eph. 5:2). It means husbands will sacrificially love their wives like Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her (Eph. 5:25). It means Christians will love one another with sacrificial, humble service (John 13:1-17, 34-35). Jesus said, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:12-14). We know how Jesus loved us. It compels us to lay down our lives for Him and do whatever He commands.