Date: Sixth Sunday after Epiphany – February 12, 2017
Texts: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 119:1-8; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37
Context: I will preach on the lectio continua aspect of the assigned readings, focusing on the 1 Corinthians text again. The readings as a whole emphasize the importance of God’s Word in guiding our lives and keeping us from sin. Our tendency is to grade ourselves too easily in terms of obedience, or to grade on a curve where as long as we do better than others, we still end up passing. But Jesus won’t allow us such false conceptions. They are too dangerous, allowing sin to go unnoticed or even passed off without worry. Sin is death. It is always dangerous. Not because it is unforgivable but because we can eventually be led through sin away from Christ, to value our sin more than his forgiveness.
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 – Obedience to God – living in the proper flow of his created order – inevitably enjoys the blessings of God. Similarly acting outside of our created purpose and nature inevitably will cause us suffering and loss of blessing. Creation is designed to function a certain way. Sin has made this impossible now, but the closer we adhere to how God has showed us to live, the better off all of creation is. This is even more the case for God’s chosen covenant people. They are to mirror to all of creation a closer relationship with God made possible by his special revelation to them of his Law. They will enjoy his special blessing and protection unless they choose to reject him, in which case they incur the penalties of the Mosaic covenant, losing the tangible blessings embodied in their promised homeland. Ultimately obedience leads towards life, and disobedience leads towards death.
Psalm 119:1-8 – The great acrostic poem of the psalms, with each section corresponding to a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and unity coming from the theme of God’s Word. The psalm begins with the assertion that obedience to the Word of God results in a state of blessedness. Verses 1-3 summarize the obedient nature of such a person. Their way is blameless because they walk in God’s Law. They look after him wholeheartedly, and so their way is without wrong. Because God’s Word always leads towards life and obedience, the person who is devoted to it will be kept from wrong paths. Verse 4 acknowledges that it is for this reason that God has given his Law. However perfect obedience is impossible, and so the psalmist prays starting at verse 5 for steadfastness in following God’s Law. It is an aspiration, not a current reality. The result would be shamelessness, since the speaker would be free from any guilt or accusation. Does this imply that they are facing these things at the moment? The psalm concludes with the resolution to praise God, looking forward to the day when the speaker can offer such praise with a righteous heart, presuming they cannot do so at the moment and so offer praise that is tinged with sinfulness. The speaker resolves to obedience, but prays that in the meantime, God would not abandon them, a clear indication of the speaker’s sinfulness in the moment, but confidence of God’s love.
1 Corinthians 3:1-9 – Paul begins to apply the ramifications of his explanations in Chapter 2. There is wisdom that is imparted through human sources but with spiritual origins, and this wisdom must be discerned by spiritual people, those with spiritual maturity (2:14-16). But the Corinthians, though they are in Christ, do not have spiritual maturity and therefore lack spiritual discernment and must be fed the basics of the faith. Unfortunately, two or more years later they still lack maturity as evidenced by the divisions between them. They are thinking in a human way rather than a spiritual way. They are obsessing over the wrong things. It is not the messengers who matter but the message, just as in the previous chapter it was not the delivery that mattered but the content. They are mistaken if they think that Paul is competing with Apollos in any way! Rather, they are (or should be) working together, assisting in building up what one another starts. What matters is the result – the field of growing seeds of faith that is the Corinthian church.
Matthew 5:21-37 – Jesus has come to fulfill the Law perfectly, but around him are undoubtedly people who think that they are fulfilling the Law, more or less. After all, they haven’t murdered anyone. They haven’t committed adultery with anyone. They likely feel that they are sharing with Jesus in his purpose of perfect fulfillment of the Law. Perhaps this is even why Jesus has called them as his disciples! But the Law is not a matter of externals, and Jesus destroys any notion of perfect fulfillment by teaching about the true nature of sin as a matter of the heart and mind rather than simply of the body.
The commandment against murder might seem the easiest one to fulfill. But Jesus shows this is hardly the case, because even anger or a dismissive and insulting attitude towards another person in thought or speech is equivalent to murder. Murder is not simply the elimination of the breath of life, but the internal dismissal of the other person, the refusal to see them as a creation of God and a brother or sister in Christ to such a point that we can insult them.
Adultery might seem the next easiest command to fulfill, but here again his disciples are mistaken. Adultery is not just an act of the body, but an act of the mind and heart. And we can’t make the mistake of thinking that somehow the sin of the mind or heart is less serious than the sin of the body – all sin is equally dangerous to us, and if we realized the truly seductive danger of sin we would treat it like a physical danger, like an infection in the body that has to be stopped before it endangers the entire body.
Jesus continues on to address lackadaisical attitudes towards divorce as well as oath-taking. There is no shortage to our sinfully mistaken notions about what obedience to the Word of God does or does not entail.
Our typical way of evaluating ourselves in comparison to others is an inaccurate understanding of obedience. Obedience is not simply being a better person than someone else. Obedience is obedience – total and complete in mind and spirit as well as our body. Only when we are able to perceive this and recognize our inability – and often unwillingness! – to obey God’s Word do we more clearly perceive our condition and need for a Savior.