Matthew

The Inside

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One of my favorite verses in the Bible comes from Matthew, chapter 6, verse 33; “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” One of the reasons that verse impacts me so much is that it does an amazing job of simplifying a truth we tend to complicate. We learn that instead of concentrating on all of the worries of life; instead of taking our eyes off of God and striving in our own strength to make sure we have our physical needs met, we should turn our attention to just one thing: seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness. If we do, Jesus explains that the very thing we were worrying about will take care of itself. There is another saying from Christ that helps to simplify a truth we tend to complicate. It comes from Matthew, chapter 23, verses 25 through 26, where Jesus says:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”

So, just as when we seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, we don’t have to worry about our physical needs, if we focus on cleaning our insides, we won’t have to worry about our outsides. Many of us spend an enormous amount of time making sure that we appear holy and righteous. We can participate in highly visible ministries and Christian activities. We can learn to speak using all of the right Christian words and phrases. We can dress formally and modestly making sure we don’t have a hair out of place. We can make every effort to appear as though our Christian walk is impeccable. But in Matthew, Jesus called the Pharisees who did that, “hypocrites”. Because though they looked righteous on the outside, it was their insides that were dirty; it was their insides that were full of sin. He told them to clean the inside, then the outside would take care of itself. We need to heed these words as well. We need to concentrate on our insides. We need to make sure that our heart, or our insides, line up with the character of God. If we do, the outside will clean itself.

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Have you ever met a physically attractive person who looks amazing on the outside, but when their personality is revealed and you find out who they really are, you are repulsed? In your mind you might’ve wished that the inside of the person was as attractive as the outside. You may have felt disappointment because you didn’t find what you were expecting. When it comes to our spiritual walk, we need to concentrate on our heart first. As Jesus says, we need to make sure that we “first clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean”. I encourage you to spend the majority of your Christian efforts working on cleaning the inside of yourself, or cleaning your heart. That is what matters most to God, and that is what should matter most to us. Because when we are clean on the inside, people will be genuinely attracted to the outside as well. It may not be an attraction that can be seen with the naked eye, but it will be a much deeper and a more genuine than mere physical beauty.

Hypocrisy

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When you were a child, did you ever catch your parents behaving in a way that was contrary to how they taught you to behave? They may have used foul language, but would reprimand you if you did the same. Or they may have lied about being sick so that they could take a day off from work, but would ground you if you skipped school. They may have even gone so far as to use drugs or act promiscuously, but wouldn’t allow you to do the same. And if at any time you tried to act like them, they may have told you to, “do as I say, not as I do”. If these examples resonate with you, I hope you will chose to act differently with those under your authority. I hope that you and I will chose to practice what we preach. Jesus said this to a crowd of people in Matthew, chapter 23, verses 2 and 3:

“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.”

Whether we think people are aware of our actions or not, we should always behave as if we are being watched by those around us. Your friends may be watching, your children may be watching, your co-workers may be watching, and even your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ may be watching. If we openly proclaim our faith in Christ, we should make every effort to reflect his nature. None of us are perfect, but in as much as it is possible with us, we should always practice what we preach. If we don’t, our credibility and our testimony will be suspect. Think about it. How can we convince anyone to behave in a certain way when we don’t do it ourselves? How can we claim to be Christ-followers when we clearly don’t do what he teaches? I encourage you not to be like the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. I encourage you to practice what you preach.

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Whether we think our hypocrisy will stay hidden or not, there always seems to be someone who notices when we aren’t practicing what we say we believe. And even if we are lucky enough to escape notice from those around us, God is always aware of our hypocrisy. Jesus told the crowd that they are to obey what the teachers of the law and the Pharisees taught, primarily because of their position, but also because much of what they said lined up with the character of God. Nevertheless, they didn’t live out their faith. They didn’t practice what they taught, and Jesus took notice. How is your walk? Do you practice what you preach? Do you encourage people to live one way but secretly, or even openly, you live another? Jesus tells us that we aren’t to behave that way. We are to hear the word of God and obey. We are to read the Bible and follow what it says. And when we fail to live up to what we know is right, we need to repent and acknowledge that our actions did not reflect what we say we believe. I encourage you to reflect what you say you believe, whether in word or deed. I encourage you to practice what you preach.

Family United

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Unity is, and always will be, important in the body of Christ. But the Bible reminds us that it is no less important when referring to a kingdom, a city, or even a household. My father used to tell me that no matter what we face as a family, we will go through it together. What he was ultimately saying is that as a family, we will allow nothing to divide us, nothing to dismantle us and nothing to turn us against each other because unity in our family was of utmost importance. In Matthew, Jesus supported this notion after the Pharisees accused him of being in league with the prince of demons as evidence of why he was able to cast out demons. Then it says in chapter 12, verse 25:

“Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.’”

In making his point he continued by saying, “If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?” All of this highlights the truth that unity is so important. In light of this truth, I encourage you to make every effort to strengthen the bonds of your family. Protect your brothers and sisters, love and honor your parents, represent your family well in public, and value the family unit as your primary institution of unity. Because if a household divided against itself will not stand, what can a house operating in complete unity accomplish?

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Even before creating man and woman, God knew that the institution of family would be of great importance. Everything starts in the home. The environment that is set will likely replicate itself from generation to generation through our children and grandchildren. Consider your own family. There may be traditions, values, and practices that have been passed along to your parents from your grandparents and great grandparents. Hopefully, one of these values is the importance of embracing Christ and the salvation he offers. If this is the case, I pray that it might be the primary value you pass along to your children and grandchildren. I encourage you not to take your family for granted. Jesus says that a household divided against itself will not stand. So my question to you is, how unified is your household today?

Bird's Eye

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It always amazes me how men can, in any way, think we are a match for God. You may have heard the phrase, “playing God”, referring to someone who by their actions, are trying to do what only God can do - like choosing who might live or die in a situation. Other times people might try to challenge God by calling him out in their anger to “meet face-to-face” to settle a dispute, as if in a fight they might give God a run for his money. Or, people might even try to outsmart God, as if they can set some kind of trap that might thwart God’s plans or catch him off guard. An example of this is when King Herod realized that Jesus was about to be born. The Bible reveals that Herod devised a plan he thought would outsmart God. But it says in Matthew chapter 2 verse 13:

“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’"

And Herod did try. Several children died in his plan to kill Jesus, but God knew his heart and he knew his plan. He didn’t have to send fire down from heaven to consume Herod’s men, or turn Jesus invisible so that they couldn’t see him. But because God knows our hearts and knows our plans, his solution was as simple as sending an angel with a message. We can’t out smart God because he is wiser than us. He has a bird’s eye view of all of our plans. Nothing will take him by surprise, and he can change the course of any planned calamity by something as simple as sending a word of warning.

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We should never forget how powerful God is. This is his world and he makes all of the rules. He has a bird’s eye view of everything that goes on, and he knows the heart of every person. We should never presume to try to take on the role of God, to challenge God, or to outsmart God. These are all futile pursuits which, in essence, tries to exalt ourselves to the status of God. But we are his creation. We should humble ourselves before him, trust him and fall into his loving and capable hands, because for humanity, there is no better place to be.

Strong Foundation

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Have you ever tried to learn something new, and as your tutor tries to help you, it’s like they skip the basics and go right for the more advanced stuff? It is easy to understand why one would struggle if they aren’t able to establish the basic foundation of what they are trying to grasp. At times, I can see the same thing happening with new believers. If you are new in the faith, I encourage you to concentrate on building the foundation first, and that foundation is learning and putting into practice the words and directives that Jesus taught in the Bible. In Matthew chapter 7, verses 24 and 25 Jesus says: 

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”

As you grow in the faith, you may not learn everything you need to know in one church service or one Bible reading session. This isn’t something that is rushed or instant. Just continually stay in God’s word and let the Holy Spirit water the seeds of spiritual growth as they are planted. Try not to compare yourself to someone who is more mature than you, and don’t look down on those who are less. Just focus on building your house on the rock; which is putting to practice the words of the Bible as you learn them. The sign of a strong foundation doesn’t always reveal itself when things are going great, but when problems and life struggles arise and rain and winds blow against your faith. If you’ve been putting to practice what you learn as you learn it, your foundation will become stronger and stronger. No need to try and jump ahead into areas that are well beyond your understanding, just stick to building your house upon a rock, and the Holy Spirit will make you more and more mature as you do.

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You might have heard people say that life is short. I know that I’ve said that myself. But I submit to you, that in some respects, life can be long – especially if you make the wrong decisions. That is why it is so important to build a strong foundation in Christ at the beginning of your walk. If you do, you’ll be able to weather the storms of life because you’ll have the basics down so well that the lies of the devil won’t sway your faith. Jesus says that building your house on a rock is a wise decision. And if you work on strengthening that foundation early in your walk with him, poor decisions won’t cripple you in your journey through life.