Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (August 11, 2019) A Mother-Daughter Covenant Ruth 1:6-11, 14-18

A Mother Daughter Covenant Ruth 1:6-11, 14-18

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week I take a look at a covenant between a family.  The lesson comes from Ruth 1:6-11 and 14-18.  In this lesson we see women who are ethnically different.  They worship different gods, they have different customs, and they have different cultures.  Yet something binds these women together more powerfully than their differences could separate.  In this lesson Ruth leaves everything she knows, all of her traditions, practices, and all of her people to go with Naomi.  What this highlights for me is the powerful way in which Naomi must have impacted Ruth.  This mother-in-law must have had a profound, deep, intense, and life changing impact on her daughter-in-law for her to leave everyone and everything she was accustomed to.  Ruth knows that she is a Moabite and Israelites look down on and almost always have nothing to do with Moabites.  But still, she clings to her mother-in-law.  She clings because there is something more powerful than the pain of living among people who don’t like you because of your ancestry.  She clings because there is something more powerful than suffering because there is no man in your home.  These two women have a bond of love.  It is this love that becomes a mother daughter covenant; a covenant that we all should strive to emulate in our own relationships.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Redeemer

Widow

Background: 

This week’s lesson is the first of two lessons from the book of Ruth.  Nelson’s Bible Handbook notes that its author is unknown although some scholars credit it to the prophet Samuel.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible notes that “Christian Bibles place Ruth in between Judges and Samuel.  This leads the reader directly from the era when “there was no king in Israel” (Judg. 21:25) to the time of David, the exemplary King noted in Ruth 4:17-22”.  The Hebrew Bible, instead, places Ruth among the writings. 

Townsend commentary notes that Ruth begins during the closing days of Judges.  “Judges was a four-hundred year timeline of anarchy and oppression during which the Israelites were not ruled by kings but rather had judges who were deliverers whom God periodically raised up to deliver Israel”.  Judges Closes with “There was no King in Israel”.  Ruth takes us from the anarchy of no king to the time of the great King David. 

Perhaps the strongest theological point in Ruth is the idea of the redeemer.  Although this book is named Ruth, it tells the story of Naomi.  “Naomi lived in Bethlehem in the time of the Judges.  A famine drives Naomi and her family to seek refuge in Moab, where her two sons marry (abduct) Moabite women as wives.  When Naomi’s husband and sons die, she returns to Bethlehem, destitute, bitter and “empty” but accompanied by her Moabite daughter-in-law Ruth” (New Interpreter’s Study Bible).  Again, this book is named Ruth, but it is really the story of Naomi. 

It is Naomi who “needs redemption and ultimatly she receives it.  It is Naomi’s life that is renewed (4:15); her feelings of bitterness, emptiness, and hopelessness are turned around.  Like Naomi, we are the recipients of unmerited love, and our redemption is due to someone else’s faithfulness, not our own” (NISB). 

It is also important to note the full context in which Ruth pledges her love to Naomi.  Dr. Wil Gafney writes in The Africana Bible – Reading Israel’s Scriptures From Africa and The African Diaspora that “Ruth’s embrace of Naomi is particularly striking remembering that they were from different ethnic communities, practiced different religions, and Naomi was there – and presumably did not object – when Ruth and Orpah were abducted into marriage.  So Ruth really leaves everything she knows, all of her traditions, practices, and people to go with Naomi.  What this highlights for me is the powerful way in which Naomi must have impacted Ruth.  This mother-in-law must have had a profound, deep, intense, and life changing impact on her daughter-in-law for her to leave everyone and everything she was accustomed to. 

Our text this week is focused on a covenant between a family.  A family that is ethnically different but bound in love nonetheless.  Ruth is marginalized as a Moabite and as a widowed or unmarried woman.  She knows she will likely be unwelcome in Bethlehem.  The Israelites did not like, nor did they get along with the Moabites.  Yet, her love for her mother-in-law compels her to go anyway.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Redeemer

Widow

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week: 

Last week was the first in a series of lessons that deal with covenants between people.  As we saw in last week and will see again in this week’s lesson, love is a significant theme that drives these covenants.  Last week’s lesson was taken from 1 Samuel chapters eighteen and nineteen.  The love that secured the covenant between Jonathan and his friend David was the central theme.  Chapter eighteen began with a continuation of the David and Goliath story.  In verse one David had already killed Goliath and presented Goliath’s head to Saul.  David was seen as a hero and of course this bothered King Saul.  David had single handedly won the war and defeated the Philistine enemy of Israel.  Verse one told us that the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David.  Townsend Commentary noted that “the traditional, mainstream view of the relationship between David and Jonathan is that it was platonic, brotherly love”. 

Verse two helped us understand that Saul was pleased with David because Saul “took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house”.  

Verses three and four helped us understand that Jonathan and David had a mutual agreement; they made a covenant.  Verse three told us that Jonathan loved David as his own soul.  The terms of their covenant are not mentioned but based on the actions of Jonathan in verse four we can consider Jonathan’s loyalty to David surpassed his own claim to the throne.

Verse five helped us understand David’s obedience and wisdom.  David conducted himself wisely.  He was successful in all that Saul put before him.  He was so successful that “all the people, even the servants of Saul approved”.  The fact that even the servants approved really says something about the fame, celebrity, and prominence of David.  That same fame and prominence is what would make King Saul jealous. 

At this point the lesson text skipped chapter 19.  I noted that between verses 6 and the beginning of Chapter nineteen a lot transpires.  Townsend Commentary noted “the events of 1 Samuel 18-20 occurred between 1018 and 1013 BC, and David would have been between fifteen and twenty-two.  He spent approximately seven years living with King Saul before Saul began trying to kill him”.  Additionally, “There is a twenty-five year age gap between David and Jonathan”. 

Verse one of chapter 19 tells us that Saul speaks to Jonathan and to all his servants that they should kill David.  Saul is jealous of David.  This jealousy is the basis of his hatred for David without cause.

Verse two of chapter nineteen told us of Jonathan’s treason against his father Saul.  Jonathan’s love for David and his covenant with David means more to him than carrying out the wishes of his father the King.  Jonathan warns David and advises him to hide in a secret place until morning.  

Verses three, four, and five detailed the plan Jonathan came up with to save his friend and how with courage and commitment Jonathan spoke truth to power.  If warning David wasn’t treason, reporting his private conversation with the King surly was.  Verse four shows Jonathan speaking up for and on behalf of David his friend. In verse five Jonathan reminds his father the King how David risked his own life to kill the Philistine.   He reminds the King that David is innocent.  In this way, Jonathan showed his true loyalty.  He risked his own life for the safety of his friend.  He spoke truth to power.  He was courageous and committed to the covenant he made with David.

Verses six and seven reveal the results of Jonathan’s plea to his father.  Saul listened to his son and he swore “as the Lord lives, he shall not be slain”.  Jonathan took the risk for his friend and in this occasion it was worth it.  It was a tremendous risk for Jonathan.  He had to choose between loyalty to his father and loyalty to his friend.  As Jonathan noted, David was innocent.  Jonathan choose to stand up for what was right.  His loyalty was to his friend, but his loyalty was also to what was right.

That should be our goal.  To stand up for what’s right; to be loyal to our friends but more so, to truth and righteousness. 

This week’s lesson deals with another covenant based in love.  David and Jonathan’s love is through friendship.  Naomi and Ruth’s love is based in family.  Although the family circle has been broken with the death of the husbands of Naomi, Orpha, and Ruth the love Ruth demonstrates to her mother-in-law is just as powerful as any other.  Townsend, Boyd’s, and Standard Lesson Commentary title the lesson A Mother-Daughter Covenant.  The scripture text comes from Ruth 1:6-11, and 14-18. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

Leading up to verse six we learn the timeframe of this story is when the Judges ruled.  There was a famine in Judah and Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons left their home country and crossed into Moab.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible notes that “Bethlehem means “House of Bread / Food”.  Yet at this time there is no food due to the famine.  Elimelech means “My God is King” in ironic contrast to the end of Judges which states that there was no king in Israel.  Mahlon and Chilion sound like the Hebrew words for “Diseased” and “perishing” suggesting that the sons are likely to die young.  And Naomi means “Sweet” or “pleasant” in ironic contrast to the bitterness she will face in life”.  After living in Moab some time Elimelech dies.  After living there about ten years the two sons also die.  When verse six picks up Dr Wil Gafney writes in the Africana Bible “Naomi is a postmenopausal widow bereft of her childless sons.  Naomi has no (male) family left.  But she has a home.  She returned to her people, the land of her ancestors”.  

Verses six and seven tell us that Naomi with her daughters-in-law start the return home because she has heard that the Lord has given Judah food. 

Verses eight and nine tell us that Naomi told her daughters-in-law to go back to your mother’s house.  The NISB notes that using the term “mother’s house” is an indication that Naomi is urging them to look for new husbands”.  And it’s here that we get the first glimpse of the kind of woman Naomi is.  She tells them “May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me”.  Regardless of Naomi’s motivation for sending them back she wishes them well and acknowledges how they have treated her dead sons, and how they have treated her as their mother-in-law.  In verse nine she wished that they will find security in the homes of their new husbands.  The NISB notes that “In their world, marriage was assumed to be the only respectable way for a woman to achieve social and economic security”.  In a male dominated, patriarchal society, these husbandless women and this sonless mother would have a hard time just to survive.  After she kisses them, they all wept aloud.  But surely, this isn’t the first time they have wept aloud together.  These women have experienced great trials and tribulations.  They have experienced the death of their husbands and Naomi’s sons.  And they have likely faced the struggles of providing for themselves without their husbands. 

Verses ten and eleven tell us again that Naomi wants them to look for other husbands.  Naomi tells them “do I still have sons in my womb that that they may become your husbands”?  Naomi knows how hard it is to survive without a husband and she believes it would be best for them to find other husbands.  And this is really Naomi looking out for their best interest.  This is Naomi showing them love.  She knows she can do little to nothing to make life better for her daughters-in-law. 

The lesson text skips to verse fourteen where again they wept aloud.  Naomi is heartbroken, distressed, and probably destitute and by her own words bitter.  She has set her mind to return to her home and she knows that she has nothing to offer her daughters-in-law.  Orpah is convinced of her mother-in-law’s argument.  It’s logical, it makes sense, and she knows Naomi is speaking from a place of love.  Orpah departs from Naomi and returns to her people, to her culture, and to her gods.  But Ruth clings to Naomi.  She knows Naomi is speaking the truth.  She knows she has nothing really to look forward to.  She knows that she is a Moabite and Israelites look down on and almost always have nothing to do with Moabites.  But still, she clings to her mother-in-law.  She clings because there is something more powerful than the pain of living among people who don’t like you because of your ancestry.  She clings because there is something more powerful than suffering because there is no man in your home.  She clings because there is something more powerful than the sorrow she has already faced and the hardships she is likely to face.  She clings because she loves this woman.  She loves her mother-in-law more than the comfort of living with her own people.  She clings because she loves this woman more than the familiarity of her own customs and her own gods.  She clings because Naomi is a woman who has no doubt shown Ruth the kind of love that transcends customs.  Naomi has shown her a love that transcends culture. And for Ruth, Naomi’s love transcends familiarity. 

In verses sixteen and seventeen Ruth speaks the words that are so often repeated in marriage ceremonies.  These words are Ruth’s unequivocal love for her mother-in-law.  Ruth is going to cling to Naomi regardless of what may come.  Where ever she goes, where ever she lives, whatever God she serves, and where ever she dies, Ruth declares that the same will be to her. 

These are certainly beautiful words and I remember them repeated in my own wedding years ago.  While the sentiment is certainly appreciated, respected, and esteemed we should be mindful of the context.  The NISB notes that “these words spoken by one woman to another woman must be taken out of context in order to be used as a pledge of love between a man and a woman”.  Yet it is this sentiment and the deep meaning of this kind of love that we all ought to strive for in our marriage relationships.  This is Ruth’s covenant with Naomi. 

Verse eighteen closes our lesson with Naomi resigned to Ruth’s commitment.  Naomi realizes that Ruth is determined and committed; not just to go with her but to demonstrate her love toward her. 

That should be our goal.  To demonstrate our love for one another in ways that leaves no doubt about our care and concern.    

Context:

Do you have a friend or family member that will do anything they can for you?  Do you have someone who will “walk the last mile” with you?  Do you have someone who will stand by you and support you through “thick or thin”?  Do you have a “ride or die”?  Do you have someone that loves you unconditionally?  Do you have someone who gives you unmerited love?  All of this and more is what Ruth is to Naomi.  This book bears the name of Ruth; but Naomi is the real MVP.  Ruth gets credit for demonstrating her undying love for her mother-in-law but it is Naomi who impacted her daughter-in-law in ways to warrant that kind of love.  I can think of no strength, no power, and no purpose stronger than love.  Love can cause you to sacrifice yourself for the ones you love.  Love is the greatest power in the universe.

That is what this mother-daughter covenant is.  It is a covenant based in love.  As followers of Jesus Christ our love should be so strong, so unmistakable, so committed and devoted that our loved ones will know we are their “ride or die”.     

Key Characters in the text:

Naomi – The mother-in-law of Ruth and wife of Elimelech.  Her name means “sweet” or “pleasant” but she becomes bitter toward God after the death of her husband and two sons.  She is later redeemed and the sweetness of her life restored. 

Ruth – A Moabite woman who becomes the grandmother of King David and in the bloodline of Jesus Christ.  Ruth demonstrates her undying love for her mother-in-law Naomi and through her she becomes Naomi’s redemption. 

Key Words: 

Redeemer – God as the rescuer and recoverer of Israel.  A designation for Jesus Christ, who brings salvation and the redemptive relationship God, intends to have with those who believe.  

Widows – Women who remained unmarried after the death of their husbands were of special concern in ancient Israel as powerless persons (Ex 22:22).  They were recipients of Christian care by churches in Acts 6:1-3 and 1 Tim 5:3-16. 

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  Who are you riding for?

2.  Don’t sleep on Naomi.        

Questions

1.  Ruth was a Moabite who was likely abducted into marriage.  She knew Israelites frowned upon and did not like Moabites.  Does Ruth rely on faith that things will work out, or does she simply love her mother-in-law regardless of how things will work out? 

2.  Ruth a Moabite woman becomes the ancestress of King David and thereby Jesus.  What does this say about racial purity?    

Concluding Thought:

Love is the most powerful force in the universe.  Ruth’s love for Naomi is a demonstration of what love can do.  It can cause a person to willingly sacrifice their own comfort and convenience for the sake of someone else.  This is the kind of love God demonstrated for us through Jesus Christ.  God sacrificed God’s only begotten son for our salvation and redemption.              

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson: Next week we continue our study in the book of Ruth.  As we continue to learn about covenants between people we explore how virtuous Ruth charms Boaz and becomes the grandmother of King David.  Next week the text comes from Ruth 3:1-6, 8-12, and 16-18. 

Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (August 4, 2019) A Covenant Between Friends I Samuel 18:1-5, 19:1-7

Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week I take a look at a covenant between friends taken from I Samuel 18:1-5 and 19:1-7.  In this lesson we see a friend’s loyalty tested by someone in authority.  But it’s not just anyone and it’s a test that could mean life or death.  In this text we see Jonathan essentially committing treason against his father Saul.  Saul is the King.  His commands are absolute.  Yet, Jonathan’s love for his friend David is more powerful than Jonathan’s willingness to obey his father.  It’s easy to say right is right and wrong is wrong; but Jonathan had to choose between loyalty to his father the king and loyalty to his friend David.  In this week’s lesson we see a glimpse of how he chose between the two and how Jonathan put himself at risk of death to save his friend.  I am reminded of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr as he said “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends”.  Jonathan was not silent.  He spoke up for and on behalf of his friend.  It took courage.  He spoke truth to power.  I am convinced that our communities, our cities, states, and our country would be better if our real friends would only speak up.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Covenant

Treason

Jealousy

Background: 

This week’s lesson begins the first of three lessons in the Old Testament.  These lessons deal with covenants between people.  This week the covenant is between Jonathan and David and the next two week’s will come from the book of Ruth.  With that in mind I’ll give a broad overview of the Old Testament, an overview of the book of Samuel, and then a few background thoughts on chapters surrounding this week’s lesson.

What Christians call the Old Testament are also Jewish scripture.  Michael Coogan’s “The Old Testament, A Very Short Introduction” notes that “Bible originally meant book but the Hebrew Bible or Christian Old Testament is not one book but many, an anthology of ancient Israelite and early Jewish religious writings”.  The first part is the Torah, also known as the Law.  The Torah or The Law consists of the first five books of the Bible.  The second part is the Prophets.  The Prophets section is divided into the former and the latter prophets.  The Former Prophets are Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings.  The latter prophets are books named after individual prophets (Coogan).  The third section is known as the Writings.  Our lesson this week comes from the section known as the Former Prophets. 

The New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary notes that “1 and 2 Samuel were originally one work.  They bear the name of Samuel, yet Samuel is the focal character only in the first eight chapters of 1 Samuel, dies before 1 Samuel ends, and is not mentioned in 2 Samuel.  The main interest of both books is David.  First Samuel tells of his rise and 2 Samuel of his kingship”.  It also notes that 1 Samuel is pro-Davidic.  Saul can do nothing right and David can do nothing wrong”. 

This week’s lesson comes from chapters 18 and 19 of 1 Samuel.  These chapters focus on David in Saul’s Court and highlight Saul’s hatred of David, Jonathan’s love of David, and the value of covenant between friends.  “While Jonathan’s love is that of a close personal relationship, “love” in the ancient Near East is also a way of conveying political loyalty.  Thus Jonathan, heir to Saul’s throne, is loyal to David” (NIBOVC).

Our text this week deals with a covenant between friends.  The challenge faced by one of these friends will reveal the loyalty he has placed in his friendship.  As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends”.  Covenants have meaning.  The mettle of this friendship is tested in ways that require courage and commitment.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Monarchy

Jealousy

Covenant

Treason

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week: 

Last week our lesson began in Matthew 7 verses one.  Verses one and two started the chapter with the admonition “do not judge, so that you will not be judged”.  I noted that in this context, Jesus was telling us not to look down on or speak against others as if we are morally superior.  Verse two helped us know that when we judge we will be judged in the same manner.  When you were growing up you may have heard someone say “what goes around, comes around”.  That may not be in the scripture, but the principle certainly is. You can think of sowing and reaping in 2 Corinthians 9:6.

I noted how verses three through five dealt with hypocrisy and provided a theological definition of hypocrisy as “the outward appearance of conveying truth or righteousness that masks the inner state of mind or intention of untruth or evilness”.  Those verses helped us understand that we cannot act morally superior to others whose faults are small compared to our own very large faults.  We should first evaluate our own motives and actions before evaluating the behavior and motives of others.  I thought it was important to mention that while behavior is easy to see, a person’s motives are not always clear.  It’s easy to say “right is right” and “wrong is wrong” but sometimes what we think is right or wrong really isn’t so clear cut. 

Verse six moved away from telling the disciples and crowd to not be hypocrites.  Instead it essentially tells them to be good stewards of discernment.  As I stated in previous lessons, Matthew’s Gospel is not kind to the scribes and Pharisees.  When Jesus talks about not giving that which is holy to dogs and not casting your pearls before swine, he is talking about the scribes and Pharisees.  Standard Lesson Commentary noted that Jesus “does not want them to be hypocrites like the scribes and Pharisees yet Jesus knows the potential for misuse of his exhortation not to judge”.  Equally important was knowing that some people will take advantage of your kindness.  This verse helps us to be on guard for the unrighteous who are not really concerned about righteousness or doing right by others.   

The text then skipped to verses fifteen through twenty-three.  I provided the theological definition of prophet as “One who speaks on behalf of God to God’s people, most prominently the Hebrew prophets whose writings are found in the Old Testament.  In verse fifteen Jesus cautioned his disciples and listeners to beware of false prophets who come in sheep’s clothing but are inwardly ravening wolves.  I noted other words that describe people like this as huckster, grifter, charlatan, imposter, swindler, cheat, fraud, deceiver, and fake.  Jesus tells us to beware of these kinds of people.  Jesus loves everybody, but that love does not mean we should let ourselves be taken advantage of by them. 

Verse sixteen reminded us that we will know them by their fruits.  It’s true that you can’t know what is in a person’s heart.  But it is just as true that you can see what they do.  You can see who and what they support, and you can see what they condone and how they conduct themselves.  You will know them by their fruit. 

Verses seventeen and eighteen say it plainly.  A good tree produces good fruit and a corrupt tree produces corrupt fruit.  In other words, good prophets will do good things and bring about good on behalf of God.  Corrupt prophets will do corrupt things and bring about corruption in the name of God.  But keep in mind that not every false prophet started out corrupt.  Sometimes they fall into corruption somewhere along the journey and become corrupt.  So the point for us is to always keep our eyes on Jesus as our guide and not on a human who is capable of failing us. 

Verses nineteen and twenty told us that trees not producing good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire and that we will know them by their fruits.  Ultimately the end of false prophets will be destruction.  Unrepentant abusers of God’s people have no place among the righteous.  

In verse twenty-one Jesus explained that those who make it into his kingdom will be those who “walk the walk” not just “talk the talk”.  Jesus expects us to live this Christian life. 

Verses twenty-two and twenty-three closed last week’s lesson on spiritual discernment showing us that many will say they have prophesied, cast out demons, and done many wonderful works in the name of Jesus.  Yet, in the end Jesus will tell them “I never knew you, go away from me you evildoers.  I noted that what should be frightening to us is that there will be many who say they have done this in Jesus name.  We must be vigilant and diligent so that we are not deceived by these charlatans, grifters, imposters, frauds, and deceivers otherwise known as false prophets.  Our goal is to walk in God’s perfect love and if we do so with discernment we won’t become victims of these false prophets.

This week’s lesson deals specifically with a covenant between friends.  It’s good to have friends and it’s even better to have good friends.  Good friends don’t need to talk every day, week, or even every month.  What makes the difference is that when called upon, a good friend will do everything within their power to aid and assist you as best they can.  If you are blessed with a good friend and even better, blessed with a lifelong good friend, you are indeed blessed.  Townsend, Boyd’s, and Standard Lesson Commentary title the lesson A Covenant Between Friends.  The scripture text comes from I Samuel 18:1-5 and 19:1-7. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

These first five verses of chapter eighteen are a continuation of the David and Goliath story.  In verse one David has already killed Goliath and presented Goliath’s head to Saul.  David is a hero.  He has won the war and single handedly defeated the Philistine enemy of Israel.  Verse one tells us that the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David.  Townsend Commentary notes that “the traditional, mainstream view of the relationship between David and Jonathan is that it was platonic, brotherly love”. 

Verse two leads us to understand that at least at this point, Saul is pleased with David because Saul “took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house”.  But soon we will see that feelings and opinions can sometimes change like the wind. 

Verses three and four help us to understand a mutual agreement between Jonathan and David.  They made a covenant.  Verse three tells us that Jonathan loved David as his own soul.  The terms of the covenant are not mentioned but based on the actions of Jonathan in verse four we can consider Jonathan’s loyalty to David surpassed his own claim to the throne.

Verse five shows us David’s obedience and wisdom.  David conducted himself wisely.  He was successful in all that Saul put before him.  He was so successful that “all the people, even the servants of Saul approved”. 

At this point the lesson text skips to chapter 19.  I should note that between verses 6 and the beginning of Chapter nineteen a lot transpires.  Townsend Commentary notes that “the events of 1 Samuel 18-20 occurred between 1018 and 1013 BC, and David would have been between fifteen and twenty-two.  He spent approximately seven years living with King Saul before Saul began trying to kill him”.  Additionally, “There is a twenty-five year age gap between David and Jonathan”. 

Verse one of chapter 19 tells us that Saul speaks to Jonathan and to all his servants that they should kill David.  Saul is jealous of David.  This jealousy is the basis of his hatred for David without cause.

Verse two tells us of Jonathan’s treason against his father Saul.  Jonathan’s love for David and his covenant with David means more to him than carrying out the wishes of his father the King.  Jonathan warns David and advises him to hide in a secret place until morning. 

Verses three, four, and five detail the plan Jonathan comes up with to save his friend and how with courage and commitment he speaks truth to power.  In verse three Jonathan details how he will report back to David his conversation with his father.  If warning David wasn’t treason, reporting his private conversation with the King surly is.  Verse four shows Jonathan speaking up for and on behalf of David his friend. In verse five Jonathan reminds his father the King how David risked his own life to kill the Philistine.   He reminds the King that David is innocent.  In this way, Jonathan shows his true loyalty.  He risked his own life for the safety of his friend.  He spoke truth to power.  He was courageous and committed to the covenant he made with David.

Verses six and seven reveal the results of Jonathan’s plea to his father.  Saul listened to his son and he swore “as the Lord lives, he shall not be slain”.  Jonathan took the risk for his friend and in this occasion it was worth it.  It was a tremendous risk for Jonathan.  He had to choose between loyalty to his father and loyalty to his friend.  As Jonathan noted, David was innocent.  Jonathan choose to stand up for what was right.  His loyalty was to his friend, but his loyalty was also to what was right.

That should be our goal.  To stand up for what’s right; to be loyal to our friends but more so, to truth and righteousness. 

Context:

Silence implies consent.  If you won’t speak up about what bothers you then perhaps you aren’t really bothered.  Perhaps you’re okay with the situation.  Perhaps you aren’t directly impacted so you have nothing to gain by personally speaking up.  Perhaps speaking up disturbs your comfort.  Your silence implies your consent.  If you don’t speak up for what is right you accept what is wrong by default.  The real question is why.  Why don’t we speak up for others?  Could it be fear? Fear of what others may think of us.  Fear of losing social standing.  Fear of losing future opportunities.

We should not be driven by fear; instead we should be driven by love.  A love to set right what is wrong in our relationships, our communities, cities, states, and our country.  We should be driven by a fierce love that at times requires the courage to confront our relatives, neighbors, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances.  It takes courage to confront others.  It takes courage to speak truth to power.  But when confrontation and speaking truth is based in love we can be sure that we are doing right by God and God’s people.  That’s the basis of righteousness.  Jonathan spoke up for his friend.  He wasn’t silent.  David knew where Jonathan stood.  He didn’t have to guess or wonder.  Jonathan’s friendship and his loyalty were based in a covenant of love.  As followers of Jesus Christ righteousness should be our guiding principle and love our guiding light.  Even when, if not especially when, we are called to speak up for others.   

Key Characters in the text:

King Saul – The first king of Israel.  “He was plagued by an evil spirit that tormented him to madness, and he was envious of David’s fame and victory” (Townsend). 

Jonathan – “He is the eldest son of King Saul.  He is a biblical model of faithful friendship and fidelity” (Townsend).

David – “He is the eighth son of Jesse.  He was a shepherd, a musician, and a soldier.  He faithfully served and recognized Saul as God’s chosen servant” (Townsend). 

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion): 

Loyal / Loyalty – 1. Faithful to one’s sovereign, government, or state: 2. faithful to one’s oath, commitments, or obligations:  3. faithful to any leader, party, or cause, or to any person or thing conceived as deserving fidelity.

Treason – 1. The offense of acting to overthrow one’s government or to harm or kill its sovereign. 2. A violation of allegiance to one’s sovereign or to one’s state. 3. The betrayal of a trust or confidence; breach of faith; treachery.

Jealousy – Jealous resentment against a rival, a person enjoying success or advantage, etc., or against another’s success or advantage itself. 

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  What kind of friend are you; fair-weather or true?

2.  When so-called friends don’t speak up.        

Questions

1.  Jonathan had to choose between loyalty to his father and loyalty to his friend.  Discuss the criteria he used to decide between the two.

2.  Discuss ways you can speak up for others. 

3.  When is it appropriate to be faithful to friends or loyal to civil authorities (Boyd’s Commentary)?       

Concluding thought:

This week’s lesson teaches us about faithful friendship through a covenant between friends. True friends are hard to find.  After David killed Goliath he was the real MVP (most valuable player).  Everyone loved, praised, and celebrated the great victory over the Philistine.  But like the wind, some people’s opinion of you can change.  In this week’s text David may have started out as the real MVP but when he needed a real friend it was Jonathan who came to his rescue.  True friends are hard to find.  A true friend is a friend in good times and bad times.           

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson: Next week we study the first of two lessons in the book of Ruth.   As we continue to learn about covenants between people we will explore the love of Ruth for her mother-in-law Naomi.  This is one of the most powerful love stories in all scripture.  Next week the text comes from Ruth 1:6-11 and 14-18. 

Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (July 28, 2019) Jesus Teaches About Spiritual Discernment Matthew 7:1-6, 15-23

Spiritual Discernment Matthew 7:1-6, 15-23

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week I review how Jesus teaches about spiritual discernment in Matthew 7:1-6, and 15-23.  In this chapter we see major teaching points about spiritual discernment, hypocrisy, constructive criticism and others. As Jesus begins to conclude his sermon on the mount we understand what he requires is not easy.  It requires spiritual maturity and being sensitive to the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit.  It can be easy to fall into the trap of a smooth talking false prophet.  It can be especially easy to fall into this trap when the false prophet started out doing good works and as Jesus said they prophesied in his name, cast out demons in his name, and even performed many miracles in the name of Jesus.  What frightens me is that Jesus said there would be many who did these things in his name.  But in the end he declares depart from me you evildoers, I never knew you.  Spiritual discernment is needed by all who follow Jesus.  This week’s lesson gives us a glimpse of how to achieve discernment.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Criticism

Hypocrisy

Prophecy

Background: 

Matthew is written about 70 A.D. after the fall of the temple.  It is written to Jewish Christians who are struggling with their own identity.  These Jewish Christians are not accepted in the mainstream Jewish community because they believe in the divinity of Jesus.  The New Interpreters Study Bible notes that with bitterness the Jewish Christians have withdrawn from the synagogue.  The Temple has been destroyed, the Romans have occupied the land of the Israelites, and the Roman soldiers subject and oppress the Israelite people.  Because The Temple is destroyed, the Judeans are confused, distraught, and distressed because much of their religious existence revolved around The Temple.  They question whether God has abandoned them.  Matthew is primarily written to Jewish Christians and it offers unconverted Judeans (and others) a picture of why Jesus is the Savior.

This seventh chapter of Matthew deals with the ideas of judgment, accountability, and discernment among other things.  Part of what this chapter deals with is how we judge the actions and character of others.  When judgement comes from a place of moral superiority it is sinful.  This seventh chapter points that out using examples the people of its day would understand. 

Just as in previous weeks, our text this week continues to show what the righteousness of Jesus looks like.   Jesus is focused on teaching his standards of righteousness and showing how God’s people should be treated.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Criticism

Hypocrisy

Prophesy

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week: 

Last week the lesson began at verse thirty-eight with Jesus continuing his Sermon on the Mount.  He opens with the “You have heard that is was said” “But I say unto you” formula.  In this verse he reminded the disciples and the crowd of Leviticus 24:19-20 – “19 Anyone who maims another shall suffer the same injury in return: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; the injury inflicted is the injury to be suffered”.  Jesus reinterpreted this command turning it upside down and in the next verse he literally says to do the opposite.  Instead of “eye for eye” Jesus told them to “turn the other cheek”.  The righteousness of Jesus goes beyond The Law.  His righteousness takes it to the next level.  I also mentioned how this verse causes us to evaluate the idea of retributive justice against the idea of restorative justice.  Retributive justice is “the view that God’s justice intends to give sinners that which their sins deserve (Jer. 5:29, 20:12)”.  Restorative justice “emphasizes an equal concern for crime victims and offenders, while deemphasizing the importance of coercion. It also seeks to focus on the harm done to persons and relationships rather than on the violation of a law” (The Free Dictionary).  In other words, retributive justice would not turn the other cheek whereas restorative justice would require the one who slaps a person to repair or somehow pay reparation to the one slapped.  In this way, relationships can be made whole and community restored because both the victim and the offender are involved in restoring community.

Verse forty dealt with our relationship with the legal system or as Townsend Commentary puts it “legal revenge”.  Jesus was telling us when we are sued to willingly give more than the law requires, even to our own detriment. 

Verse forty-one told us to “go the extra mile”.  I mentioned how Standard Commentary notes that “By law, a Roman soldier could compel a person to carry his gear, but only for one mile”.  Roman soldiers were despised by the Israelites.  The Romans had occupied the land of Israel, destroyed The Temple, and oppressed the Israelites.  To go the extra mile for your oppressor is indeed a radical love.  

Verse forty-two dealt with our relationship with money.  Our economic system and our societal values today are vastly different from this time in ancient history.  The point is for us to be generous when and where we are able. 

Verse forty-three and forty-four returned again to the “You have heard that it was said” “but I say unto you formula”.  In verse forty-three Jesus reminds us the law says to love your neighbor (Leviticus 19:18).  I mentioned how Standard Commentary notes that “Nowhere does the biblical law command one to hate an enemy”.  The point Jesus is making is that his righteousness requires a radical, life changing, transformative love.  

Verse 45 helped us understand that what happens to someone else could just as easily happen to you.  God makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good and God sends rain on the just and the unjust.  Good things can happen to bad people and bad things can happen to good people. 

I noted in verse forty-eight Jesus tells us to be perfect even as God in heaven is perfect.  Townsend Commentary described this perfection as meaning “mature and full grown”.  We are not and cannot be perfect.  Yet, we can be mature and complete in our love toward God’s creation and especially God’s people.  Our goal is perfect love; that is what we are striving for. 

This week’s lesson helps us understand spiritual discernment.  As Jesus continues to outline what the rules of his kingdom looks like, we learn about checking ourselves first before we start correcting others.  We also learn about spiritually discerning motives of false prophets.   Townsend and Boyd’s Commentary title the lesson Jesus Teaches About Spiritual Discernment.  Standard Lesson Commentary titles it Spiritual Discernment.  The scripture text comes from Matthew 7:1-6, and 15-23. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

Verses one and two start this chapter with the admonition “do not judge, so that you will not be judged”.  In this context, Jesus is telling us not to look down on or speak against others as if we are morally superior.  Jesus cared about people.  All of God’s people.  Someone else may be farther along in their Christian maturity than me or you but this admonition from Jesus helps us know that they are not superior to me or you.  Not only that, but verse two lets us know that when we judge we will be judged in the same manner. When you were growing up you may have heard someone say “what goes around, comes around”.  That may not be scriptural, but the principle certainly is.

In broad terms, verses three through five deals with hypocrisy.  Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms defines hypocrisy as “the outward appearance of conveying truth or righteousness that masks the inner state of mind or intention of untruth or evilness”.  These verses help us understand that we cannot act morally superior to others whose faults are small compared to our own very large faults.  We should first evaluate our own motives and actions before evaluating the behavior and motives of others.  While behavior is easy to see, a person’s motives are not always clear.  It’s easy to say “right is right” and “wrong is wrong” but sometimes what we think is right or wrong really isn’t so clear.  The point Jesus is making here is that we should be guided by love.  When love is the guiding principle we are less likely to judge others from a position of superiority.  We should keep in mind that Jesus loves all of God’s people.  As Jesus outlines what righteousness looks like and the rules of his kingdom in chapters five through seven we see again and again the high importance he places on treating people right.  Not just friends and family and the people who look, act, and think like us but all of God’s people regardless of their position in life. 

Verse six moves away from telling the disciples and crowd to not be hypocrites.  Instead it essentially tells them to be good stewards of discernment.  As I’ve stated in previous lessons, Matthew’s Gospel is not kind to the scribes and Pharisees.  When Jesus talks about not giving that which is holy to dogs and not casting your pearls before swine, he is talking about the scribes and Pharisees.  Standard Lesson Commentary notes that Jesus “does not want them to be hypocrites like the scribes and Pharisees yet Jesus knows the potential for misuse of his exhortation not to judge”.  What is important for us to know is that some people will take advantage of your kindness.  This verse helps us to be on guard for the unrighteous who are not really concerned about righteousness or doing right by others.  People like this are not concerned about your well-being and may wish you no good. 

The text skips now to verses fifteen through twenty-three.  Townsend Commentary titles these sections True and False Prophets (verses 15-20) and True and False Disciples (verses 21-23).  Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms defines a prophet as “One who speaks on behalf of God to God’s people, most prominently the Hebrew prophets whose writings are found in the Old Testament.  In verse fifteen Jesus cautions his disciples and listeners to beware of false prophets who come in sheep’s clothing but are inwardly ravening wolves.  Other words that describe people like this could be huckster, grifter, charlatan, imposter, swindler, cheat, fraud, deceiver, fake, and I’m sure there are others.  Jesus tells us to beware of these kinds of people.  Jesus loves everybody, but that love does not mean we should let ourselves be taken advantage of by them.  One measure of discernment to guard against being taken advantage of is to evaluate how much of what they teach benefits them personally. 

Verse sixteen reminds us that we will know them by their fruits.  It’s true that you can’t know what is in a person’s heart.  But it is just as true that you can see what they do.  You can see who and what they support, and you can see what they condone and how they conduct themselves.  You will know them by their fruit. 

Verses seventeen and eighteen say it plainly.  A good tree produces good fruit and a corrupt tree produces corrupt fruit.  In other words, good prophets will do good things and bring about good on behalf of God.  Corrupt prophets will do corrupt things and bring about corruption in the name of God.  But keep in mind that not every false prophet starts out corrupt.  Sometimes they fall into corruption somewhere along the journey and become corrupt.  So the point for us is to always keep our eyes on Jesus as our guide and not a human who is capable of failing us. 

Verses nineteen and twenty tell us that trees not producing good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire and that we will know them by their fruits.  Ultimately the end of false prophets will be destruction.  Unrepentant abusers of God’s people have no place among the righteous. 

In verse twenty-one Jesus explains that those who make it into his kingdom will be those who “walk the walk” not just “talk the talk”.  Jesus expects us to live this Christian life.  Jesus expects us to live a righteous life guided by and actually doing the work of love.

Verses twenty-two and twenty-three close this lesson on spiritual discernment showing us that many will say they have prophesied, cast out demons, and done many wonderful works in the name of Jesus.  Yet, in the end Jesus will tell them “I never knew you, go away from me you evildoers.  What should be frightening to us is that there will be many who say they have done this in Jesus name.  We must be vigilant and diligent so that we are not deceived by these charlatans, grifters, imposters, frauds, and deceivers otherwise known as false prophets.  Our goal is to walk in God’s perfect love and in doing so with discernment we won’t become victims of these false prophets.    

Context:

Spiritual discernment, constructive criticism, and hypocrisy, are some of the major teaching points in this text.  The first two we should embrace and the last we should reject and avoid.  But that is easier said than done.  It takes spiritual maturity to exercise spiritual discernment.  It can be easy to fall into the trap of a smooth talking false prophet.  It can be especially easy to fall into this trap when the false prophet started out doing good works and as Jesus said they prophesied in his name, cast out demons in his name, and even performed many miracles in the name of Jesus.  Spiritual discernment requires being sensitive to the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Again, that requires maturity. 

Constructive criticism happens when someone offers a solution to a problem in a positive way.  That happens best when we have first evaluated ourselves.  When our motives are true, not self-serving but more so in the interest of another we are able to offer constructive criticism without judging others.  When offered in the right way constructive criticism avoids judgement while still identifying and helping to solve a problem.  It is in some ways the very opposite of judging others. 

Most people know hypocrisy when they see it.  When people say one thing but do another its hypocrisy.  When people smile in your face but hate you as soon as you turn your back, that’s hypocrisy.  There are a number of other examples but again, most people know it when they see it.  As followers of Jesus Christ we should strive to never become hypocrites.  As followers of Christ our yes should be yes and our no should be no.  Our goal should be to live and act in love following the righteousness of Jesus Christ. 

Key Characters in the text:

Jesus Christ – Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and according to the Christian church the incarnate second Person of the Trinity.  He was crucified on a cross and was raised from the dead by the power of God. 

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion): 

Criticism – the act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything. 

Discernment – The process of assessing and evaluating, particularly in relation to trying to determine God’s will in a particular situation or for one’s life direction. 

Hypocrisy – The outward appearance of conveying truth or righteousness that masks the inner state of mind or intention of untruth or evilness. 

Prophet – One who speaks on behalf of God to God’s people, most prominently the Hebrew prophets whose writings are found in the Old Testament. 

Demon – An evil spirit that works contrary to the divine will (Mark 1:34, 39). 

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  Judgement versus discernment.

2.  When wise as serpents (Matt 10:16) see ravening wolves (Matt 7:15).       

Questions

1.  Discuss ways you have noticed hypocrisy.             

2.  Discuss ways constructive criticism could have prevented hypocrisy.            

Concluding thought:

This week’s lesson teaches us about spiritual discernment.  Just as in last week’s lesson a changed heart brings about a changed life.  The righteousness Jesus calls us to, is to be both wise or discerning and grounded in love.  It is a love that helps others overcome their faults and sins.  It is a love that operates in the righteousness of Jesus and makes effort to first judge ourselves before we judge the intentions, and motives of others.  Sometimes it is indeed a difficult task.  But that’s our goal.  That’s what we are striving for.       

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week we leave the New Testament and move back to the Old Testament.  Our lesson comes from I Samuel and deals with a covenant between friends.  The challenge faced by one of these friends will reveal the loyalty of his friendship.  I am reminded of a quote from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends”.  Covenants have meaning.  The mettle of this friendship will be tested in next week’s lesson.  Next week the text continues at I Samuel 18:1-5, and 19:1-7.

Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (July 21, 2019) Jesus Teaches About Transforming Love / Transforming Love Matthew 5:38-48

Transforming Love Matthew 5:38-48

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week I review how Jesus teaches about transforming love in Matthew 5:38-48.  In this chapter Jesus continues to outline what righteousness looks like for his Kingdom.  A changed heart brings about a changed life.  The righteousness Jesus is teaching turns lives upside down.  It is transformative.  It is a new way of thinking, a new way of living.  Just as the birth of a first born child changes everything, the radical love Jesus teaches changes everything about how we think, act, live, and love.  As Jesus contrasts his righteousness with the righteousness of The Law we see our own inadequacy and the complete sufficiency of Jesus as the fulfillment of The Law.  Jesus continues to be more concerned about our relationships with one another than he is with us following the rules and regulations of The Law.  As Jesus continues to reinterpret The Law we should understand that righteousness is based in a love that does right by God and God’s created.  This lesson is about transforming love; A love that reorders our life.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Transforming Love Changes Everything

Pacifist

Reparations

Radical Love

Background: 

Matthew is the first of the four Gospels with the other three being Mark, Luke, and John.  Even though scholars note that Mark is written first, Matthew is listed first in the Protestant Bible.  Matthew holds this place as the first Gospel because according to the New Interpreters Study Bible One Volume Commentary “it is concerned to link the old revelation with the new, to show the new as the culmination rather that the abrogation of what went before”.  In other words, part of Matthew’s purpose is to show how the New Testament is linked to what we call the Old Testament.  Additionally, “Matthew’s evident concern is to tell the story of Jesus, who is center stage in nearly every episode in the Gospel.  When this text is written “Israel desires the rule of God even though that rule remained as an ideal, or a future hope.  That hope is removed from the everyday reality of human frailty, faithlessness, and the brutal reality of suffering and oppression they were subjected to under Roman rule”. 

Keep in mind, when this text is written the Jewish Temple has already been destroyed.  That’s significant because the Israelites are now confused, distressed, and distraught because The Temple was central to their religious existence.  It was the place they went to meet the requirements of God.  With its destruction they question whether God has abandoned them.  Matthew is written as a response to this situation, it gives the Israelites the option to choose Jesus.  

Just as in last week, our text this week continues to deal with the contrast of Jesus’ righteousness against the righteousness of The Law.  Notice how Jesus says “you have heard that it was said” and then he follows with “but I say unto you”.  He’s telling them the Law says XYZ, but I say unto you 1, 2, 3.  Jesus is more concerned about the spirit of the Law, the treatment of God’s creation, than he is with a set of rules and regulations.  For Jesus, righteousness is built largely upon how all people, not just Israelites, and God’s created are treated.  As Jesus continues to outline what righteousness looks like, he is showing us that righteousness is a spiritual matter that comes from a changed heart; A heart of love.  This continues to be about the spirit of the Law, not the letter of the Law.  How we handle and care for our relationships with others speaks volumes about who we are and what we value.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Pacifist

Reparations

Radical Love

Perfection

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week: 

Last week verse twenty-one began with “You have heard that is was said”.  Here, Jesus was reminding the disciples and listeners of what the Law said long ago.  As Jesus explained each of the three examples he used he was making a point.  The point he was making for his disciples and the listening crowd was that He was calling them to a higher righteousness.  Jesus was calling them to a spiritual righteousness based in love; not a righteousness based on strict adherence of The Law.  His first example dealt with murder.  Murder is a shocking and atrocious sin but Jesus says that even if you are angry with your brother or sister without cause it is essentially the same thing as murder.  Jesus takes the “Old Testament”, the Hebrew Bible or The Law and he reinterprets it to take it to a whole new standard.  One point we can take away from this exchange is that anger can destroy relationships. 

Verses twenty-three and twenty-four reinforced this point and make it clearer that Jesus is more concerned with our human relationships, how we treat each other, than he is with whatever gift we might bring to God. 

Verses twenty-five and twenty-six dealt with contentious relationships.  The point here was that we should work out our differences quickly.  Don’t let your differences fester. Don’t let differences linger.   

Verses twenty-seven and twenty-eight dealt with adultery.  But more so it dealt with how husbands ought to treat their wives who in a patriarchal society had little to no rights.  Again, Jesus takes it to the next level when he said “whoever looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart”.  Jesus was teaching the disciples and listeners the spirit of the law is what was important, not the letter of the Law.  We need a changed heart.  A heart of love. 

Verses twenty-nine and thirty dealt with the relationship we have with our selves. Self-care is important.  In fact, when we fail to take care of ourselves I argue that we are more likely to have “offending members” or causes of stumbling in our faith walk.  Plucking out offending eyes or cutting off offending hands is not to be taken literally.  Again, Jesus was making a point.  He is showing us that the righteousness of his kingdom goes beyond following rules. 

In verses thirty-one and thirty-two Jesus again uses the “you have heard it was said, but I say unto you” formula.  This time Jesus dealt with another matter of the heart; spousal relationships.  Keep in mind that through much of history, in patriarchal societies, women were treated as property.  Jesus was telling us that the spousal relationship should not be abused.  The righteousness of Jesus’ kingdom is in large part based on doing right by others.  As Jesus reinterprets The Law of Moses he takes it to the next level to make guilty the male who divorces his wife and the man who marries a divorced wife.  Again, Jesus is driving home his point and I argue that this too should not be taken literally.  Women are not the property of their husband.  Jesus recognized that abuse and teaches his disciples and the crowd that spousal relationships are important.

As we continue to focus on the idea of a heartfelt covenant, this week’s lesson helps us understand the transforming love of Jesus.  As Jesus continues to outline some of the rules of his kingdom, in this lesson Jesus teaches about a transforming love that is radical.  It is a new way of thinking and a new way of living.  It is transformative.  Townsend and Boyd’s Commentary title the lesson Jesus Teaches About Transforming Love.  Standard Lesson Commentary titles it Transforming Love.  The scripture text comes from Matthew 5:38-48. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

Verse thirty-eight continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount with “You have heard that is was said”.  Jesus is reminding the disciples and listeners of what the Law said long ago.  In this verse he reminds them of Leviticus 24:19-20 – “19 Anyone who maims another shall suffer the same injury in return: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; the injury inflicted is the injury to be suffered”.  Jesus reinterprets this command turning it upside down.  In verse thirty-nine he literally says to do the opposite.  The righteousness of Jesus goes beyond The Law.  His righteousness takes it to the next level.  A level that in some cases may be unattainable for humans not controlled by the Holy Spirit.  Verse thirty-nine requires us to “turn the other cheek”.  With this pacifism Jesus is making the point that his righteousness is a radical, complete, and transformative way to love who God has created.  Even if the people God created are the very ones who wronged you.  Jesus is telling us that our relationships should be founded upon and intertwined with a love that is all-encompassing.  It is a radical way to love. 

This verse also causes us to evaluate the idea of retributive justice against the idea of restorative justice.  Retributive justice is “the view that God’s justice intends to give sinners that which their sins deserve (Jer. 5:29, 20:12)”.  Restorative justice “emphasizes an equal concern for crime victims and offenders, while deemphasizing the importance of coercion. It also seeks to focus on the harm done to persons and relationships rather than on the violation of a law” (The Free Dictionary).  In other words, retributive justice would not turn the other cheek whereas restorative justice would require the one who slaps a person to repair or somehow pay reparation to the one slapped.  In this way, relationships can be made whole and community restored because both the victim and the offender are involved in restoring community.

Verse forty deals with our relationship with the legal system or as Townsend Commentary puts it “legal revenge”.  The point for us to know is that even in a legal matter, love is the overriding dominate principle.  This kind of love is indeed radical.  Jesus is making his point.  He is telling us when we are sued to willingly give more than the law requires, even to our own detriment. 

Verse forty-one tells us to “go the extra mile”.  Standard Commentary notes that “By law, a Roman soldier could compel a person to carry his gear, but only for one mile”.  Roman soldiers were despised by the Israelites.  The Romans had occupied the land of Israel, destroyed The Temple, and oppressed the Israelites.  To go the extra mile for your oppressor is indeed a radical love. 

Verse forty-two speaks to our relationship with money.   Our economic system and our societal values today are vastly different from this time in ancient history.  The point here is for us to be generous when and where we are able.  Again, it is the relationship that matters.  When and where we can we ought to always seek to build, restore, and make relationships whole even, if not especially, when involving money in our society today. 

Verse forty-three and forty-four return to the “You have heard that it was said” “but I say unto you formula”.  In verse forty-three Jesus reminds us the law says to love your neighbor (Leviticus 19:18).  Standard Commentary notes that “it was a popular misapplication of the command where the logically opposite has been added: hate thine enemy”.  “Nowhere does the biblical law command one to hate an enemy”.  The point Jesus is making is that his righteousness requires a radical, life changing, transformative love.  This love can only spring from a changed heart.  A heart transformed by love.  A heart that returns good for evil. 

Verse 45 helps us understand that what happens to someone else could just as easily happen to you.  God makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good and God sends rain on the just and the unjust.  Good things can happen to bad people and bad things can happen to good people.  In as much as we are the recipients of good and the victims of bad we are all “in this boat together”.  God loves all of God’s creation and so should we.  Again, this is a radical, countercultural love that we ought to always strive for. 

In verses forty-six and forty-seven Jesus is making his point clear.  If you only love those who love you how are you different from the despised tax collectors who often abused and cheated the Israelites. 

In verse forty-eight Jesus tells us to be perfect even as God in heaven is perfect.  This indeed is a tall order.  I should note that Townsend Commentary describes this perfection as meaning “mature and full grown”.  We are not and cannot be perfect.  Yet, we can be mature and complete in our love toward God’s creation and especially God’s people.  Our goal is perfect love, that is what we are striving for. 

Context:

Our text this week is a strong call to nonviolence based in restorative love.  The US criminal justice system is based on retribution and in some cases rehabilitation.  Another model which I believe is more closely related to the teachings of Jesus is restorative justice.  Restorative justice acknowledges the victim of crime and includes the victim in determining how the offense is to be resolved.  It holds space for reconciliation.  It holds space for renewal of relationship between victims of crime and perpetrators of crime.  It’s not easy, but the radical love Jesus calls us to is not easy either.  God is concerned with our relationship with others.  It’s easy to love those who love you, it’s not so easy to love the “unlovable”.  If we are to be true disciples of Jesus Christ, he calls us to a radical love.  A transforming love based on our relationships with others. 

Key Characters in the text:

Jesus Christ – Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and according to the Christian church the incarnate second Person of the Trinity.  He was crucified on a cross and was raised from the dead by the power of God. 

Matthew – Each of the four Gospels lists Matthew as one of the twelve Apostles.  Most scholars believe Matthew and Levi is the same person.  As a tax collector Matthew would have been associated with the Roman government.  This would have also made him despised by his Jewish countrymen and women.

Key Words: 

Disciples – One who follows and learns from another as a pupil.  Old Testament prophets had disciples, as did John the Baptist and the Pharisees.  It is used specifically for those who follow Jesus Christ. 

Agape – The self-giving love seen supremely in God’s love for the world (John 3:16) and as a mark of the Christian life (I Cor. 13).     

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  What radical love looks like.

2.  Being perfect in an imperfect world.     

Questions

1.  Discuss ways you have been transformed by love.           

2.  Discuss why relationships are so important in Jesus’ Kingdom.           

Concluding thought:

This week’s lesson teaches us about transforming love.  A changed heart brings about a changed life.  The righteousness Jesus is teaching turns lives upside down.  It is transformative.  It is a new way of thinking, a new way of living.  As Jesus contrasts his righteousness with the righteousness of The Law we see our own inadequacy and the complete sufficiency of Jesus as the fulfillment of The Law.     

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson: Next week Jesus continues his Sermon on the Mount teaching about spiritual discernment.  This lesson will help us contrast judging others against discerning spiritual matters involving others.  As Jesus continues to show us what righteousness in his kingdom looks like, I will highlight our response to being judged and discerning true prophets and disciples.  Next week the text continues at Matthew 7:1-6, and 15-23. 

Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (July 14, 2019) Jesus Teaches Us To Love One Another Matthew 5:21-32

Love One Another Matthew 5:21-32

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week I review what Jesus said about anger, adultery, and divorce in Matthew 5.  In this chapter Jesus continues to outline what righteousness looks like for his Kingdom.  We can learn at least two things in this week’s lesson.  First, Jesus is more concerned about our relationships with one another than he is with us following the rules and regulations of The Law.  And secondly, Jesus is asking us to truly live a righteous life.  As Jesus reinterprets The Law using literary devices to make his point we should understand that righteousness is based in a love that does right by God and God’s created.  This lesson is about relationships and the spirit of The Law, not the letter of The Law.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

The Law

Divorce

Patriarchy

Background: 

When this text is written the Jewish Temple has already been destroyed and these Jewish Christians are a distinct people of God separate from the Israelites with a completely separate mission.  Their mission is to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).  Some of them have Jewish heritage.  Some of them are Gentile.  Some still have Jewish practices.  But they aren’t entirely Jewish.  They are becoming something entirely different from what they used to be.  Matthew is written to give them that guidance and direction as they move from where they were to where God wants them to be.

Our text this week deals with relationships as Jesus talks about the Law.  Notice how Jesus says “you have heard that it was said” and then he follows with “but I say unto you”.  He’s telling them the Law says XYZ, but I say unto you 1, 2, 3.  I think what we see in this text is that Jesus cares more about relationships than rules; even the rules of The Law.  As Jesus continues to outline what righteousness looks like, he is showing us that righteousness is not a strict adherence to The Law; but more so a deeper spiritual righteousness that comes from a changed heart; A heart of love.  This is about the spirit of the Law, not the letter of the Law.  How we handle and care for our relationships with others speaks volumes about who we are and what we value.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

The Law

Hell

Divorce

Patriarchy

Review of Last Week How it Connects to This Week: 

Last week I reviewed the second lesson of this five week series in Matthew.  I explained how Jesus continued to outline what righteousness looks like for his Kingdom.  I also noted how Matthew gives us an honest account of the tension between what I keep calling the “old school” Jewish hierarchy and these new Jewish Christians who aren’t worshipping in the same way or following the same practices as the “traditional” Jews are.  In verses thirteen and fourteen of last week’s text Jesus described his disciples and by extension all of us who follow him as salt and then light.  These two metaphors are descriptors that should help us understand how we should be and how we should be seen in the world.  Salt is both a seasoning and a preserver.  It seasons our food and makes it taste better.  Likewise we should strive to make life “taste” better for those around us.  Salt also preserves.  We ought to preserve the good in our lives and encourage others to do the same.  In preserving what is good we can become lights in a dark world.  I also noted that Saint Francis of Assisi is credited with saying “preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words”.  That’s a great explanation of what it means to be salt and light in this world. 

I noted in verses 15 and 16 how we are encouraged to put our light on a candlestick so others may see our good works.  In other words, our lights should shine bright.  Don’t dim your bright light because others are intimidated, jealous, envious, or any other reason.  Your good works, your example, your ministry, your life’s example should be to God’s glory

Verse 18 told us that nothing would be taken away from the Law; not one word, not one letter, not even a stroke of one letter will be taken away until all has been fulfilled.  I noted how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets.  Also noted was Standard Lesson Commentary saying “God did not give the law intending that it would last forever.  Ultimately it points to Christ, who makes perfect what the law could not perfect (Rom 3:20-31; Hebrews 7:16-19). 

Verse 19 reminded us how Jesus declares those who break one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.  No one can keep all of the commandments of the Old Testament.  Jesus offers a better testament, a better covenant.

Verse 20 told us that our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees or we will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  I noted how the Gospel According to Matthew is not kind to the scribes and Pharisees.  There is tension between these Jewish Christians who are teaching a new way, a new covenant based in Jesus Christ and the “old school” Jewish hierarchy.  Matthew is written to a community who “with much bitterness and conflict have withdrawn from the synagogue.  It assists a now separate community in defining its identity and shaping its faithful way of life within the diversity of late 1st-century Judaism” (NISB).  The point for us today is to recognize and acknowledge Jesus as our Savior.

As we continue to focus on the idea of a heartfelt covenant, this week’s lesson helps us understand how Jesus teaches us to love one another.  This is the third lesson from the Gospel According to Matthew.  As Jesus continues to outline some of the rules of his kingdom, in this lesson Jesus deals with some matters of the heart.   He teaches about anger, adultery, and divorce.  Townsend and Boyd’s Commentary title the lesson Jesus Teaches Us To Love One Another.  Standard Lesson Commentary titles it Love One Another.  The scripture text comes from Matthew 5:21-32. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

Verse twenty-one begins with “You have heard that is was said”.  In this way, Jesus is reminding the disciples and listeners of what the Law said long ago.  In our text this week Jesus does this three times.  As he walks through each of these three examples he is making a point.  He is essentially calling the disciples to a higher righteousness.  A spiritual righteousness not based on strict adherence of The Law but on a deeper spiritual level based in love.  His first example deals with murder.  To commit murder is a shocking and atrocious sin.  But notice how Jesus takes it to the next level.  He says even if you are angry with your brother or sister without cause you are in danger of judgement.  He’s making the point that relationship is important and anger against your brother or sister is dangerous.  Anger can destroy relationships.

Verses twenty-three and twenty-four reinforces the point and makes it even more clear that Jesus is more concerned with our human relationships, how we treat each other, than he is with whatever gift we might bring to God.  He is essentially saying stop what you are doing; first be reconciled to your brother or sister and then bring your gift.  Relationships are important!

Verses twenty-five and twenty-six deal with contentious relationships.  The point here is that we should work out our differences quickly.  Don’t let your differences fester. Don’t let your differences linger.  Bad news doesn’t get better with time.  So whatever needs working out, go ahead and work it out. 

Verses twenty-seven and twenty-eight deal with adultery.  Again, Jesus takes it to the next level when he says “whoever looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart”.  This is not about the letter of the Law.  Jesus is teaching us about the spirit of the Law.  We need a changed heart.  A heart of love. 

Verses twenty-nine and thirty deal with the relationship we have with our selves. Self-care is important.  In fact, when we fail to take care of ourselves I argue that we are more likely to have “offending members” or causes of stumbling in our faith walk.  It should be noted that plucking out offending eyes or cutting off offending hands is not to be taken literally.  Again, Jesus is making a point.  He is showing us that the righteousness of his kingdom goes beyond following rules.  It goes beyond “gaming the system” to get or do what you want.  The righteousness of Jesus is a matter of the heart; a changed heart.  Also, Townsend Commentary notes that ““hell” comes from the Greek word gehenna.  Gehenna appears often in Matthew to refer to the eternal destination of the wicked.  Hell is not to be confused with Hades (Luke 16:32), which was the underworld for the dead known as Sheol in the Old Testament”.

In verses thirty-one and thirty-two Jesus returns again to this “you have heard it was said, but I say unto you” formula.   This time Jesus deals with another matter of the heart; spousal relationships.   Keep in mind that through much of history, in patriarchal societies, women were treated as property.  Townsend Commentary notes that “Some of the rabbis allowed divorce on the grounds that the wife was displeasing to her husband or that the husband was attracted to a more beautiful woman”.  Jesus is telling us that the spousal relationship should not be abused.  The righteousness of Jesus’ kingdom is in large part based on doing right by others.  As Jesus reinterprets The Law of Moses he takes it to the next level to make guilty the male who divorces his wife and the man who marries a divorced wife.  Again, Jesus is driving home his point and I argue that this too should not be taken literally.  Women are not the property of their husband.  Jesus recognized that abuse and teaches his disciples and the crowd that spousal relationships are important.

Context:

Poetry, figurative language, literary and rhetorical devices, narrative, prose, proverbs, analogies, and other techniques are used in Scripture to instruct and ultimately draw us closer to God.  Our text this week contains examples of literary devices used to make a point.  When Jesus tells us to pluck out the offending eye or cut off the offending hand it is not literal.  He is making a point.  Notice how Jesus used metaphors of salt and light in last week’s lesson.  Jesus’ use of literary devices helps us appreciate, interpret, and analyze his teachings.  I especially like how Rev. Wil Gafney PH.D. explains a portion of this text, writing “Sometimes Jesus says something entirely contradictory to the text. Mostly he seems to be making it harder to do the right thing and some of what he says just seems flat out impossible. In the passages he reinterprets in our gospel today, Jesus accepts the basic meaning but recrafts them to say surprisingly more than they previously said. Jesus takes biblical interpretation to a whole other level”.  Yes, that’s the point!  As Jesus reinterprets parts of the The Law, we should see beyond the mere words on the page and hear the call to true righteousness.  Righteousness rooted in relationship and love.  Jesus doesn’t do away with the old covenant, he makes it better. 

Key Characters in the text:

Jesus Christ – Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and according to the Christian church the incarnate second Person of the Trinity.  He was crucified on a cross and was raised from the dead by the power of God. 

Matthew – Each of the four Gospels lists Matthew as one of the twelve Apostles.  Most scholars believe Matthew and Levi is the same person.  As a tax collector Matthew would have been associated with the Roman government.  This would have also made him despised by his Jewish countrymen and women.

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion): 

Beatitudes – Teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount regarding the lives and dispositions of his followers.

Disciples – One who follows and learns from another as a pupil.  Old Testament prophets had disciples, as did John the Baptist and the Pharisees.  It is used specifically for those who follow Jesus Christ. 

Patriarchy – A male authority system that oppresses and subordinates women through social, political, and economic institutions and practices.    

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  What righteousness looks like.

2.  What did I say?   

Questions

1.  Discuss how anger can destroy relationships.         

2.  Discuss why relationships are so important in Jesus’ Kingdom.           

Concluding thought:

This week’s lesson teaches us at least two things.  First, Jesus is more concerned about our relationships with one another than he is with us following the rules and regulations of The Law.  Secondly, Jesus is asking us to truly live a righteous life.  This is about the spirit of The Law, not the letter of The Law.  Righteousness based in an ethic of love ought to be our guiding light.  I can think of no example when doing right by God and doing right by God’s created will lead us away from righteousness.  That’s our task, that’s our goal; to do right in love.   

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson: Next week Jesus continues his Sermon on the Mount using the same “you have heard that is was said, but I say unto you” formula.  Jesus continues to make his point to the disciples and listeners about what true righteousness look like.  As he makes his point Jesus teaches about transforming love.  Next week the text continues at Matthew 5:38-48.  As we keep in mind the idea of a heartfelt covenant I will outline some of what transformative love looks like.

Christianity, Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (July 7, 2019) Jesus Teaches About Fulfilling The Law / Fulfilling The Law Matthew 5:13-20

Fulfilling The Law Matthew 5:13-20

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week I take a look at the second lesson of the Beatitudes.  In this week’s lesson Jesus continues to outline what righteousness looks like and the rules and regulations of his Kingdom.  Matthew gives us an honest account of the tension between what I keep calling the “old school” Jewish hierarchy and these new upstarts that are telling people about a man named Jesus who can save the world.  “Old school” Judaism and these new Jewish Christians don’t agree and they don’t get along.  Matthew is writing to these new Jewish Christians to point them in the right direction concerning this New Covenant and how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

The Law

The Prophets

Scribes and Pharisees

Background: 

The overall focus for the summer quarter is a heartfelt covenant.  Heartfelt is an adjective.  It is a describing word.  It adds context to or describes a noun which in this case is covenant.  So, we’re talking about a heartfelt covenant.  Heartfelt is defined as “a feeling or its expression that is sincere; deeply and strongly felt”.  When something is heartfelt it is genuine, it’s authentic.  In our lessons this summer we are studying different aspects of this heartfelt, this genuine, authentic, and sincere covenant established by Jesus Christ.  But what I really want to highlight is that WE are the ones who experience this covenant in a heartfelt way. 

With that in mind, I’ll provide some background on the origin of the book of Matthew, a bit of background on the people this Gospel was written to, and then I’ll narrow the focus to this week’s study which is the 5th chapter of the Gospel According to Matthew. 

Matthew is also known as Levi the son of Alphaeus (Mark 2:14).  Matthew is a tax collector when Jesus finds him sitting at a tax booth.  Jesus simply says “follow me” and Matthew got up and followed him.  As a tax collector, Matthew was likely despised by other Jews because he would have been seen as a collaborator with the Roman Empire.  Also, tax collectors were called unclean and often defrauded and cheated people by charging excessive taxes.  So Jews did not associate with tax collectors.

Additionally, keep in mind this text is likely written after 70 A.D.  The Jewish temple has been destroyed and Matthew is writing to Jewish Christians.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible explains that “although the name Matthew is linked with this Gospel about 100 years after it was written, it is not known who the real author is, when the text was originally written, or why this work is named Matthew”.  An illustrated biographical dictionary explains that “although Mark is the shortest Gospel, Matthew and Luke substantially use the same text as Mark but supplement it with additional writings”. 

The fifth chapter of Matthew begins Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  The sermon covers chapters 5 through 7.  Chapter 5 begins with “blessings and sayings (5:3-16) the middle section of the sermon has six interpretations of scripture (5:17-48), instructions on three distinctive discipleship practices (6:1-18), and teaching on social and economic practices (6:19-7:12)” (NISB).  Over the next four weeks I will cover all of chapter five and close the last lesson with chapter 7.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

The Law

The Prophets

Scribes and Pharisees

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week: 

Last week was the first of five lessons from the Gospel According to Matthew.  The text was Matthew 5:1-12 which is the beginning portion of the Beatitudes.  I began with a description of verse one and two observing how Jesus took notice of the crowds, and then how he withdrew to an unnamed mountain to address his disciples.  I also noted that “So far there are only four disciples (4:18-22; 10:1-4), but they represent all disciples” (NISB).  I also noted that the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, and those who hunger and thirst after righteousness is important language for a people who are oppressed, persecuted, and subjugated by the Imperial Roman government and their fellow Jewish nationals. I provided a definition of the poor as “those who are economically or spiritually without sufficient resources and noted that God has a special concern for the poor.  Contemporary liberation theology emphasizes reading Scripture from the perspective of the poor.  I also quoted the NISB noting that “The second half of each blessing promises God’s future reversal of imperial situations” (NISB). 

I also mentioned mercy from verse seven.  Mercy is an important descriptor of God.  Our homes are better when mercy is present.  Our communities are better when mercy is present, and our governmental policies make society better when they deal with poverty as a priority. 

A Pure Heart

I also admitted my inability to explain what a pure heart is.  At least in terms of righteousness, I’m certain the only way my heart can be declared pure is through the shed blood of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross. 

I also talked about the difference between peacemakers and peacekeepers.  Peace makers do the work of justice and righteousness.  A peace keeper may or may not do this work.

Verses eleven and twelve closed the lesson proclaiming that we should rejoice and be glad because we will receive a great reward in heaven when we are persecuted falsely on the account of Jesus.  It’s important to stress that this applies to those who are falsely persecuted, not justifiably persecuted. 

Now, As we focus on the idea of a heartfelt covenant this week’s lesson deals with how Jesus fulfils the Law.   This is the second lesson from the beatitudes and the second of five from the Gospel According to Matthew.  In this second lesson we hear directly from Jesus as he outlines some of the rules of his kingdom.  The beatitudes are a guide for our everyday living that should be heartfelt by all Christians.  Townsend and Boyd’s Commentary title the lesson Jesus Teaches About Fulfilling the Law.  Standard Lesson Commentary titles it Fulfilling the Law.  The scripture text comes from Matthew 5:13-20. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

In verses thirteen and fourteen Jesus describes his disciples and by extension all of us who follow him as salt and then light.  These two metaphors are descriptors that should help us understand how we should be and how we should be seen in the world.  Salt is a seasoning and a preserver.  It seasons our food and makes it taste better.  Likewise we should strive to make life “taste” better for those around us.  Instead of creating problems we can help solve problems.  Instead of simply criticizing others we can offer constructive criticism that makes others better.  Salt also preserves.  We ought to preserve the good in our lives and encourage others to do the same.  In preserving what is good we can become lights in a dark world.  When people see your good works you become a light for them to emulate, a beacon of what can and should be instead of what is.  We should not underestimate the power of a good example.  Because sometimes the only sermon someone may hear is the one they see in how you live.  Saint Francis of Assisi is credited with saying “preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words”.  That’s a great explanation of what it means to be salt and light in this world. 

Verses 15 and 16 encourage us to put our light on a candlestick so others may see our good works.  In other words, our lights should shine bright.  Don’t dim your bright light because others are intimidated, jealous, envious, or any other reason.  Your good works, your example, your ministry, your life’s example should be to God’s glory.  And as long as you’re walking with God, let your light shine. 

Verse 17 deals with the title of this week’s lesson.  Here, Jesus tells the disciples that he has not come to destroy the law or the prophets but to fulfil.  Jesus does not do away with the old, he makes it better.  In next week’s lesson we see some of the ways Jesus makes the Old Testament better. 

Verse 18 tells us that nothing will be taken away from the Old Testament; not one word, not one letter, not even a stroke of one letter will be taken away until all has been fulfilled.  Keep in mind that this is the very beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  He has just called his first disciples in Galilee and they don’t yet know that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets.  Standard Lesson Commentary notes that “God did not give the law intending that it would last forever.  Ultimately it points to Christ, who makes perfect what the law could not perfect (Rom 3:20-31; Hebrews 7:16-19).  In other words, the Old Testament points to Jesus as its own fulfillment.

In verse 19 Jesus declares that those who break one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.  It’s been said many times that no one can keep all of the commandments of the Old Testament.  Again, Jesus offers a better testament, a better covenant.  Here, in the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry neither his disciples nor the gathered crowd know how Jesus will fulfill the Old and make it better.  The writer of Matthew is recalling events that happened about 27 AD.  So when the final version of this text is complete at least forty years have passed.  The disciples may not have known at this point so early in Jesus’ ministry but eventually they would come to understand exactly who Jesus is and how he fulfills the Law and the prophets.

Verse 20 tells us that our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees or we will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  The Gospel According to Matthew is not kind to the scribes and Pharisees.  There is tension between these Jewish Christians who are teaching a new way, a new covenant based in Jesus Christ and the “old school” Jewish hierarchy.  Matthew is writing to a community who “with much bitterness and conflict have withdrawn from the synagogue.  It assists a now separate community in defining its identity and shaping its faithful way of life within the diversity of late 1st-century Judaism” (NISB).  The point for us today is to recognize and acknowledge Jesus as our Savior.  And he is our Savior by grace. 

Context:

One of the things I love about Scripture is how is shows both the good and the not so good.  We see the faults and human frailty of the patriarchs through the Old Testament and they serve as an example of both what to do and what not to do.  It’s an honest account of the good and the not so good.  The Gospel according to Matthew is situated in that same vein.  It’s an honest account of the tension between what I keep calling the “old school” Jewish hierarchy and these new upstarts that are telling people about a man named Jesus who can save the world.  “Old school” Judaism and these new Jewish Christians don’t agree and they don’t get along.  When Matthew tells us that our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees it’s just one more instance of this tension laid bare for all to see.  What we should be mindful of is that Jesus didn’t do away with the old rules, he made them better.  Jesus offers a new agreement, a new covenant, a new testament that is a better covenant for everyone today. 

Key Characters in the text:

Jesus Christ – Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and according to the Christian church the incarnate second Person of the Trinity.  He was crucified on a cross and was raised from the dead by the power of God. 

Matthew – Each of the four Gospels lists Matthew as one of the twelve Apostles.  Most scholars believe Matthew and Levi is the same person.  As a tax collector Matthew would have been associated with the Roman government.  This would have also made him despised by his Jewish countrymen and women.

Pharisees – A Jewish party during Jesus’ time that obeyed the Law of Moses and its unwritten interpretations, known as the tradition of the elders (Mark 7:3).  They focused on holiness (Lev. 19:2).  Some were hostile (John 7:32) others were helpful to Jesus (Luke 13:31). 

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion): 

Beatitudes – Teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount regarding the lives and dispositions of his followers.

Disciples – One who follows and learns from another as a pupil.  Old Testament prophets had disciples, as did John the Baptist and the Pharisees.  It is used specifically for those who follow Jesus Christ. 

Kingdom of Heaven – An equivalent term for “Kingdom of God” found in Matthew’s Gospel. 

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  Old school versus new school.

2.  Salt is a seasoning, are you making anyone’s life “taste” better? 

Questions

1.  Matthew is writing to a people who are trying to figure out if they will be “old school” Jewish or this new style Jewish Christian, or something entirely different.  When is it best to go with the new school approach?         

2.  Is Jesus the spiritual fulfillment of the Old Testament Law?         

Concluding thought:

Matthew writes to a marginalized people, a people who are oppressed by the government and even their own brothers and sisters in the faith and reassures them of God’s plan and points them toward a mission to save the world.  This fifth chapter of Matthew shows some of how that mission began.  It also points us toward a coming Savior that in this chapter begins to outline what righteousness looks like.  It’s not the righteousness of a legal system that requires the sacrifice of animals and keeping certain legal requirements.  It is a righteousness based in love and faith in Jesus Christ.  That’s our task; to love others and to love God.

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Anger, adultery, and divorce are a part of next week’s lesson as I will continue where we left off this week.  Matthew 5:21-32 is the text next week and in these verses Jesus teaches us to love one another.  As we keep in mind the idea of a heartfelt covenant I will outline some of what that love looks like.    

Christianity, Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (June 30, 2019) Jesus Teaches About Right Attitudes / Right Attitudes Matthew 5:1-12

Jesus Teaches About Right Attitudes

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week I take a look at the first of a 5 week series in Matthew.  This week begins a section of the Beatitudes in which Jesus begins to outline what righteousness looks like and what the rules and regulations of his Kingdom are.  Keep in mind that the Roman government severely persecuted the early church and the dominant Jewish community did not accept Jesus as the Savior.  As the writer recounts the words of Jesus these Beatitudes would certainly be a comfort to a distressed and anxious community.  Jesus didn’t do away with the old rules, he made them better.  Jesus offers a new agreement, a new covenant, a new testament that is a better covenant based on his teachings which begins in this fifth chapter of Matthew.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Beatitudes

Disciples

Kingdom of Heaven

Righteousness

Background 

The overall focus for the summer quarter is a heartfelt covenant.  Lessons will deal with “matters of the heart”.  In a broad sense these lessons will speak to why we do, what we do.  Our motivations, inspirations, and aspirations say a lot about why we do, what we do.  With that in mind I’ll provide some background on the origin of the book of Matthew, a bit of background on the people this Gospel was written to, and then I’ll narrow the focus to this week’s study which is the 5th chapter of the Gospel According to Matthew. 

This text is likely written after 70 A.D.  “The name Matthew is linked with the Gospel late in the second century, about 100 years after it was written” (New Interpreter’s Study Bible).  So this text existed about 100 years before people began to call it the Gospel According to Matthew.  Matthew is mentioned only twice in this Gospel (9:9, 10:3).  So, no one definitively knows who the author is.

Most scholars agree that Matthew is also “a rewriting of Mark’s Gospel” (NISB).  Some scholars suggest it is a rewriting to show how Jesus was associated with Roman tax collector’s (Matthew was a tax collector).  The early church was heavily persecuted by the Roman government.  If Jesus was connected to people associated with the Roman Government perhaps these new Christians aren’t such a threat is the thinking behind this rational. 

The Jewish temple has been destroyed and this text is written to Jewish Christians.  The NISB Commentary writes that Matthew’s Gospel is written in part to show “God has intervened to reassert the rightful rule of “the kingdom of heaven” and to impart its blessings to the covenant people of Israel, and ultimately to all nations.  Matthew’s main audience is to the nation of Israel and Jewish Christians in particular.

The fifth chapter of Matthew begins Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  The sermon covers chapters 5 through 7.  Chapter 5 begins with “blessings and sayings (5:3-16) the middle section of the sermon has six interpretations of scripture (5:17-48), instructions on three distinctive discipleship practices (6:1-18), and teaching on social and economic practices (6:19-7:12)” (NISB).  Over the next five weeks I will cover all of chapter five and close the fifth lesson with chapter 7.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Beatitudes

Disciples

Kingdom of Heaven

Righteousness

Review Last Week and How it Connects to This Week 

Last week we studied how Colossians 2:11 describes Christ as a High Priest of the good things that have come.  Those good things were salvation, restoration, and redemption provided through Jesus Christ.   

Col 2:12 described Jesus as entering once into the Holy Place.  I noted how the New Interpreter’s Study Bible says “this place is ideal and not an actual place, but pointing to the ultimate reality of Christ’s atoning work”.  In other words, Jesus symbolically entered into the Holy Place.  Note that Jesus did not enter with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood.  That’s important.

Verses thirteen and fourteen explained that the blood of goats and calves and ashes only sanctifies the outward flesh.  It is Christ’s blood that purifies the conscience or inner person from the dead works of the Old Testament animal sacrifice system.

Verse fifteen explains that because Jesus replaces the old covenant, he is the mediator of the new covenant.  Verses sixteen and seventeen have terminology dealing with the ideas of wills, testaments, and covenants.  I noted that the Greek word for covenant is interchangeable with testament.  It is the same term for which we get the phrase “last will and testament”. 

In verse eighteen the author got to the point from the previous verses; “not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood”.  I noted how the author was trying to help us understand the importance of Christ’s shed blood.  A sacrifice had to be made for the new covenant to become effective. 

Verses nineteen through twenty-two dealt with how the Old Testament required blood.  The remaining verses describe the other things Moses sprinkled blood on and closed by proclaiming “under the law, almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins”. 

The overarching theme of this week’s lesson is a heartfelt covenant.  This lesson is the first of five from the Gospel According to Matthew.  In this lesson from the first part of the beatitudes we hear directly from Jesus as he outlines some of the rules of his kingdom.  The beatitudes are a guide for our everyday living that should be heartfelt by all Christians.  Townsend and Boyd’s Commentary title the lesson Jesus Teaches about Right Attitudes.  Standard Lesson Commentary titles it Right Attitudes.  The scripture text comes from Matthew 5:1-12. 

What Takes Place in This Passage

Verse one and two begin with Jesus taking notice of the crowds, and then he withdraws to an unnamed mountain to address his disciples.  “So far there are only four disciples (4:18-22; 10:1-4), but they represent all disciples” (NISB).  In verses three through twelve there are nine blessings or beatitudes divided into two groups (vv. 3-6 and 7-12) (NISB). 

Verse three declares that the kingdom of heaven will belong to the poor in spirit.  The poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, and those who hunger and thirst after righteousness is important language for a people who are oppressed, persecuted, and subjugated by the Imperial Roman government and their fellow Jewish nationals.  Keep in mind that the Roman government severely persecuted the early church and the dominant Jewish community did not accept Jesus as the Savior.  As the writer recounts the words of Jesus these words would certainly be a comfort to a distressed and anxious community.  Also, the poor is defined as “those who are economically or spiritually without sufficient resources.  God has special concern for the poor and they are blessed.  Contemporary liberation theology emphasizes reading Scripture from the perspective of the poor”.  It’s my view that God is especially concerned with poor and the oppressed. 

Verse four declares those who mourn will be comforted.  Verse five says the meek will inherit the earth, and verse six promises fulfillment for those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.  “In an imperial world that prizes power, wealth, and status; God’s favor is found among the powerless and poor” (NISB).  “The second half of each blessing promises God’s future reversal of these imperial situations” (NISB). 

Verse seven declares the merciful will receive mercy.  Mercy is defined as kind and compassionate treatment extending biblically to forgiveness and the gracious bestowal of that which is not deserved.  It is an important descriptor of God.  Our homes are better when mercy is present.  Our communities are better when mercy is present, and so are our governmental policies if dealing with poverty is a priority. 

Verse eight declares the pure in heart shall see God.  I admit my inability to explain what a pure heart is.  One definition of the word pure is “unmixed with any other matter” another is “containing nothing that does not properly belong” and another is “free from moral fault or guilt”.  At least in terms of righteousness, I’m certain the only way my heart can be declared pure is through the shed blood of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross. 

Verse nine declares that the peacemakers will be called children of God.  Note this verse says peacemakers, not peacekeepers.  There is a difference between making peace and keeping peace.  Peace makers do the work of justice and righteousness.  A peace keeper may or may not do this work.

Verse ten promises those who are persecuted for righteousness sake shall have the kingdom of heaven.  If the kingdom of heaven is the ultimate goal, this verse declares how important righteousness is.

Verses eleven and twelve proclaims that we should rejoice and be glad because we will receive a great reward in heaven when we are persecuted falsely on the account of Jesus.  It’s important to stress that this applies to those who are falsely persecuted, not justifiably persecuted. 

Context

The overarching theme for the summer quarter is a heartfelt covenant.  When it comes to matters of the heart I am reminded of Jeremiah 17:9 as it declares “the heart is devious above all else; it is perverse—who can understand it?”  Matthew 15:18 reminds us “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles”.  Our text today declares those who are pure in heart shall see God.  As Jesus delivers this Sermon on the Mount, he is really outlining the rules for his kingdom.  These are the new rules for the new covenant.  Jesus didn’t do away with the old rules, he made them better.  Jesus offers a new agreement, a new covenant, a new testament that is a better covenant based on his teachings which begins in this fifth chapter of Matthew.

Key Characters in the text

Jesus Christ – Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and according to the Christian church the incarnate second Person of the Trinity.  He was crucified on a cross and was raised from the dead by the power of God. 

Matthew – Each of the four Gospels lists Matthew as one of the twelve Apostles.  Most scholars believe Matthew and Levi is the same person.  As a tax collector Matthew would have been associated with the Roman government.  This would have also made him despised by his Jewish countrymen and women.

Key Words 

Beatitudes – Teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount regarding the lives and dispositions of his followers.

Disciples – One who follows and learns from another as a pupil.  Old Testament prophets had disciples, as did John the Baptist and the Pharisees.  It is used specifically for those who follow Jesus Christ. 

Kingdom of Heaven – An equivalent term for “Kingdom of God” found in Matthew’s Gospel. 

Righteousness – Biblically the term embraces a number of dimensions relating to God’s actions in establishing and maintaining right relationships.  Ethically it is a state of moral purity or doing that which is right. 

Heaven – The place beyond earth that is the abode of God.  In Christian theology, it is the future eternal abode of those who receive salvation in Jesus Christ.  It is portrayed as a place of blessedness, without pain or evil, distinguished by the presence of God. 

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas 

1.  Matters of the heart.

2.  You can’t control everything that happens to you, but you can control how you respond. 

Questions

1.  Matthew is writing to a people who are trying to figure out if they will be “old school” Jewish or this new style Jewish (Jewish-Christian) or something entirely different.  Have you ever been faced with deciding whether to remain “old school” or live differently?       

2.  List ways we can be peace makers when being a peace keeper is not sufficient.        

Concluding thought

This week’s study has a distinct focus on righteousness.  It highlights the rules and regulations of Jesus’s new Kingdom.   If you have a red-letter edition of the bible you will see a lot of red in chapters five through seven.  In his longest recorded sermon, Jesus begins to outline what righteousness looks like and what the rules are for the Kingdom of Heaven.  As disciples of Jesus, our task is to strive to meet the high standard of these next chapters in Matthew as well the other teachings of Jesus.      

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson

Next week I will continue where I left off this week with Matthew 5:13-20. In these verses Jesus teaches about fulfilling the law.  As we consider a heartfelt covenant I will outline what that fulfillment looks like and what our part is toward the new covenant with Jesus.