The Single Objective

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

Matthew 13:45-46

How invested are you in the kingdom of God? Yeshua taught us that we should be seeking the kingdom first, not somewhere further down a list of spiritual things we think we should be doing.

This parable illustrates the immense value that a true seeker places on the discovery of the kingdom of God. To be willing to sell everything you have in order to gain one single objective is a demonstration of the very highest commitment.

In a believer’s life, everything one has and does should stem from the reality of the kingdom. God’s purposes should have priority in all decision making. When you are fully invested in seeking the things of God, this desire for conformity to the kingdom becomes second nature. It becomes all-consuming and touches every aspect of your life. Living out the principles of God’s kingdom brings it to life among all of those around you.

Is the kingdom to you a pearl of the highest value, or only one of many other similar pearls strung together that you wear to adorn yourself to be admired by others?

The honor of difficult giving

Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. … And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.

Luke 6:30, 34-35

Give and loan freely to whoever asks of you, expecting nothing back from them. The distinctive aspect of how believers are supposed to model giving is to go outside the normal boundaries of the culture; to willingly give to those who would be considered unlikely recipients: those who can’t repay, even those who could be considered enemies.

This is not a practice for the faint of heart. Giving as God intends requires mettle and resolve. This is not “feel-good” giving. In fact, this type of giving can hurt because it seems so contrary to common sense.

Why should I give to those whom are unable to repay? Why should I give generously to those who could be considered adversarial?

  • Because this type of intentional giving is what is expected of us by God.
  • Because everything we have is temporary at best.
  • Because everything we have has been provided by God, so why should we hold back what has been freely given to us?
  • Because believers are supposed to be distinctive in this world, not to follow the conventions of the existing culture.
  • Because God is kind to the ungrateful and evil, and our goal is to be like him, and to exemplify his character of compassion in this world.

Giving in this manner has a promise of reward: you will be considered a child of the Most High.

I can think of no higher honor or greater decoration to be bestowed upon us.

Choosing life over anger

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

Matthew 5:21-22

Do not call someone a fool or an idiot or be unrighteously angry with anyone. According to Yeshua, the damage caused by emotional outbursts is equivalent to taking the life of an individual. Anger breeds an environment of death.

Anger is also a demonstration of unfiltered, and typically unjustified, opinion because the words we speak always come from the overflow of the heart.

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

Luke 6:45

Additionally, when we lash out at others, we reveal the weakness of our own character. Raw emotion can cause division because it is typically not based on the truth, but only on a perception of what one believes to be true. The reality of a situation may be significantly different.

If anger fosters death, then forgiveness fosters life. What anger kills, forgiveness resuscitates. Angry words designed to hurt are rendered powerless through the life generated by forgiveness.

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Matthew 18:21-22

This demonstrates that the stores of forgiveness available to us are bountiful enough to outlast and overcome any personal infraction. Life can always overcome death. Choose life.

Resting in His Care

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”

Matthew 6:26-32

Your life is more valuable to God than all the beauty and provision represented in his Creation; he knows all of your needs.

As believers, we are easily and constantly distracted from what is truly important by our bodily needs and desires. Living on this earth presents us with challenges and struggles that can pull our focus away from God.

Trust is about perspective. When we focus on the things of this world more than God, then we have lost our true perspective. Yeshua calls this condition “little faith.”

Yet, the simplicity of trusting God can restore us to our spiritual and emotional “center.” A sincere understanding of God and his ability to provide for our basic needs gives us a foundation of trust that we can then build on. When this reality seeps deep inside to our core, it becomes a tap-root that can sustain us through the most adverse conditions.

God cares for what he creates. Whether birds, flowers, grass or people, he has built into his Creation practical mechanisms for sustenance that allow his universe to thrive. Seeing this provision and beauty within his Creation is his evidence to us, his proof, that he has the ability to provide for our needs. All we have to do is recognize this, and rest safely and securely within his care.

The ancient believers expressed a similar amazement at the care that God bestows upon mankind within the vastness of his Creation:

“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. … When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”

Psalm 8:1, 3-4

Grieving and Growing

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Matthew 5:4

Grieve for unrighteousness, and you will be blessed, as God will be near to comfort you.

Many times this verse is used to comfort those who are grieving the loss of a recently departed loved one. However, the intent of this wisdom goes beyond the general aspect of mourning for death. Instead, it is a promise of God’s comforting presence with those who have a deep and sincere grief over unrighteousness, whether personal or within their shared experience.

This type of mourning takes place when one realizes their wayward actions are an affront to a holy God. This can result in personal repentance and a recommitment to do what’s right.

It is also a type of deep grief when one recognizes a state of unrighteousness among those around them, A godly heart is offended at the things that offend God. This can result in fervent prayer and intercession on the behalf of others.

If we are growing in our understanding of God and his desires for the ideals of his kingdom to be present here and now, then we are likely to also be demonstrating a sincere and passionate dissatisfaction with the unrighteousness that is exhibited within our experience each day. We grow to want what God wants, both for us and for others.

This holy grieving over lack from the ideal is spiritually healthy, and helps to keep our focus on what is truly of eternal importance. This is growing in holiness,

“Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God.”

Leviticus 20:7

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.'”

1 Peter 1:14-16

Know Your Teachers

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”

Matthew 7:15-20

Beware of deceitful religious impostors. You will recognize them for what they truly are by looking closely at the results of their words and actions.

Vigilance involves being on guard against all manner of deception to avoid following a false way. In this current day and age, we have become inundated with information overload; we must carefully pick and choose the sources of our teaching to ensure we are remaining on the narrow path laid out for us.

This admonition was of utmost importance to his first-century flock, as the nation was full of those who would try to gain a hearing, and a living, from the ignorant and willing among them.

Mark 13:22 – For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.
Luke 6:26 – “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
1 John 4:1 – Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

The apostle Peter had no shortage of words for these deceivers:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

2 Peter 2:1-3

Yeshua provides a touch-stone, a type of verification of identity, of false teaching and those who promote it: “You will recognize them by their fruits.” Peter vividly expanded on describing some of those fruits as secrecy, denying Yeshua as Messiah, sensuality, blasphemy, greed, false words.

What are the fruits of those who would seek to gain audience with you today? Are they constantly asking for money to assist in their “ministry”? Are they promising a secret message “just for you” or for only a limited few? Is Yeshua not central to their doctrine? Are they promoting any type of sensuality as acceptable (trappings of wealth, or men or women as objects of desire, “spiritual” music and worship designed to “bring you into God’s presence”)?

Yeshua declares their end as being “cut down and thrown into the fire.” While they may look good on the surface, they will not survive their worldly aspirations designed only to better themselves.

Be vigilant, and get to know your sources of teaching.

Vigilance and Stumbling Blocks

Core of the Bible Podcast Episode 4

Today we’re gonna be looking at the topic of vigilance and focusing on a key passage in Matthew 5:29.

What is vigilance? A simple definition is: the action or state of keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties.

This is a challenging passage, because the imagery is so intense. But I believe that intensity is exactly what Yeshua intended, because it is so critical to our spiritual lives.

“If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into Gehenna. “If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into Gehenna.

Matthew 5:29-30

All stumbling-blocks to righteousness must be removed from your life with extreme diligence. This is an act of personal vigilance in remaining undistracted from the things of God and his kingdom.

One of the things I’ve come to notice about the Sermon on the Mount is that most of what Yeshua explains is aimed at the individual about their own conduct. Yeshua also adds commentary on how to react to those around us who may be acting out of insincere motives, whether it was the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, or the wolves in sheep clothing who were the false prophets.

But the majority of the thrust of this teaching is on individual conduct. It is also helpful for us to understand what the term stumbling block represents.

The Greek noun and verb that used here for stumbling block or something that causes one to stumble are: skandalon which refers to the thing itself – a stumbling block and skandalizo the action of putting a stumbling block in one’s path. When you hear those words what modern word does it sound like? Yes, the modern English words “scandal” and “scandalize” can be traced back to these words. Now while it is translated in a myriad of ways in the Bible, skandalizo is not usually translated as scandal in the Bible because of its modern meaning which denotes an offense that outrages the public conscience. But stumbling blocks take many forms and an affront to the public conscience is most definitely one of them. So too, are the beliefs, ideas, and mindsets that we ourselves may hold.

Ruth Anne Garcia

This idea of scandal or scandalizing can be helpful in recognizing the effects that these attributes can pose on others.

Most significantly, what is represented by this concept is the fact that when we don’t act in the correct ways, we are scandalizing God. We scandalize God when we don’t remove our personal vices, and also when we cause someone else to stumble.

So I find it interesting when I do a search on the topic of stumbling blocks, one of the first things that came up was the topic of removing stumbling blocks in our own life so we can receive more from God.

4 Ways to Remove Stumbling Blocks to Receiving From God. Become a ‘Receiving Receiver’ and lay hold of God’s Promises for your life

The premise of this article is that most believers are not receiving everything they can get from God because there are stumbling blocks in the way. That is such an incorrect way to use this concept of stumbling blocks; it is never used that way in the Bible.

One of the key aspects of practicing vigilance in our lives is making sure that we have a correct biblically based doctrine in all these different areas of our lives, so that we can act with integrity and within the purpose and will of God for his glory in his kingdom.

This is why we have to be so cautious when we are seeking information in regards to our spiritual standing before God. This includes this podcast and the http://www.CoreoftheBible.org website and anything else where you would be drawing direction and inspiration for your spiritual journey.

If what is being taught does not fit in with the overall theme of the entire Bible, then it is not something that should be pursued.

This whole idea of doing some thing to get something else from God is turning a legitimate doctrine in the Bible on its head for personal gain. The concept of doing things to get God to do stuff for you is totally contrary to every principle in the Bible. We must do everything we can to expel this type of teaching from among our ranks as believers.

There are two types of stumbling blocks mentioned in the Bible: those with which we scandalize ourselves, and those with which we scandalize others. And both of these are a scandal against God.

This is the real meaning of the third commandment from Sinai which says you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. To take his name in vain means to attach ourselves to his culture and seek his character while not exhibiting it in our own lives. If we do this then we have taken his name in vain, or for no reason.

This is true scandal.

So while we have looked briefly at those things which we need to personally remove from our lives, we must also be aware of not laying stumbling blocks or scandalizing others.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. … “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven. [“For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.]

Matthew 18:1-6, 10-11

So, as important as it is for us to be aware that we are not causing others to stumble, before we can focus our attention outward to those around us, it is essential that we focus on our own internal struggles. We need to remove those things that would scandalize us before God, or bring dishonor to his name.

“Woe to the world because of [its] stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!

Matthew 18:7

There is an ancient proverb surrounding the biblical culture that says:

“He that washes himself after the touching of a dead body, if he touch it again, what avails his washing? So is it with a man that fasts for his sins, and goes again, and does the same: who will hear his prayer?”

Sir 34:25-26:

This speaks to the fact that we may claim to believe that we are cleansed or that we are righteous in gods sight somehow, only to go and do the very things again that brings scandal to ourselves and to his name.

If you desire to be righteous and holy in God’s sight, then you must be relentlessly severe in removing those things from your life that stand between you and him. There are no other options. It is a matter of life or death, not just a self-improvement program.

Yeshua describes the circumstances or consequences that can result from a life that is not disciplined where these attributes are not dealt with in a committed way.

“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. “If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.”

Matthew 18:8-9

So, as important as it is for us to be aware that we are not causing others to stumble, before we can focus our attention outward to those around us, it is essential that we focus on our own internal struggles. We need to remove those things that would scandalize us before God, or bring dishonor to his name.

“Woe to the world because of [its] stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!

So is Yeshua actually asking us to cut parts of our body off? Reference any commentary and you will see that Yeshua’s use of hyperbole here in this passage is for emphasis, not as a directive.

What is here called the eternal fire or the fiery hell is really the fires of Gehenna. Gehenna was a real place; the valley of Hinnom which ran or runs in a ravine right along side the city of Jerusalem. Gehenna was a place where all of the trash in the refuse and the dead bodies would be placed because there was a fire there that was constantly burning.This was a great metaphor used time and time again in the biblical writings denoting the fiery judgment that was about to come on Jerusalem because of there in ability to live righteous lives according to God‘s word.

““Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down, and cast into the fire.”

Mt 3:10

“His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing floor. He will gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire.””

Mt 3:12

“Every tree that doesn’t grow good fruit is cut down, and thrown into the fire. “

Mt 7:19

“If a man doesn’t remain in me, he is thrown out as a branch, and is withered; and they gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned. “

Jn 15:6

“I will show wonders in the sky above, and signs on the earth beneath;blood, and fire, and billows of smoke.”

Acts 2:19

“For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and a fierceness of fire which will devour the adversaries.”

Heb 10:26-27

There could be no greater contrast that Yeshua could bring forth to illustrate the necessity and the urgency with which we must deal with in these scandalous stumbling blocks in our personal lives.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace; because the mind of the flesh is hostile towards God; for it is not subject to God’s law, neither indeed can it be. Those who are in the flesh can’t please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if it is so that the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if any man doesn’t have the Spirit of Christ, he is not his. If Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him who raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised up Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if you live after the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

Rom 8:5-13:

You MUST die to yourself and your own selfish ways if you are to live for him. This is abundantly clear throughout the teachings of Yeshua and the New Testament that we need to not only  take to heart, but to put into practice every single day in the manner of vigilance required to remain a faithful disciple.

This is the true challenge of living in walking in the kingdom of God. We have been challenged to be shining examples of purity and holiness to the world around us every day; every day. This is how God‘s kingdom continues to grow with every faithful generation.

Blinded by hypocrisy

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Matthew 7:3-5

Don’t be hypocritical.

Hypocrisy is readily understood by all people. Hypocritical actions are the basis of lost trust, strained work relations, and broken friendships. Hypocrisy undermines the integrity of those who exemplify it.

Within each individual there must be a deep desire for fairness and justice, otherwise hypocrisy would be meaningless. Recognizing hypocritical actions demonstrates how all people, regardless of religious beliefs, have the ability to discern a measure of rightness or equity.

When someone doesn’t hold themselves to the same standards they expect of others, they reveal a moral deficiency that invalidates their position. They can become blinded to the true state of any given situation, and then remain unable to be an effective help those around them.

This is why it is critical that we as believers maintain a consistent worldview in all matters of any moral depth. Our ability to maintain our integrity reflects on the One whom we represent, and the kingdom he is establishing. When our integrity is intact, we then have the clarity of vision to keep our own way pure, and also to provide that exemplary guidance as a light to others.

The Kingdom of Empty Cups

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Matthew 5:3

Have an empty spirit, ready to receive and obey the slightest instruction, and you will be blessed as the kingdom of heaven is yours.

To be poor in spirit is to be helpless and powerless among those who have received abundance of wisdom and provision. It is a recognition of lack in the face of great resources. More than that, it is an acceptance of this spiritual destitution as a foundation for understanding.

In modern terms, we might say an individual is an empty cup, ready to be filled. The cup, in its “poor” state, lacks the liquid with which it desires to be filled. However, recognizing that it is empty, it is willing to receive with joy the liquid wisdom as it is poured out.

A cup that is already full of its own liquid cannot receive any further instruction, since it is already full. This individual has no room for growth or further revelation.

To be poor in spirit is to keep your cup empty so that you can always have plenty of room to receive whatever wisdom and instruction God is willing to pour into you.

Making a Difference

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”

Matthew 5:13

Be as distinctive and useful as salt while on this earth. 

The life of a believer should be one of influencing the world around them; not necessarily the whole world, but the extent of their personal reach. This influence should be as natural as breathing to a believer, but as profound as the most challenging ethic to others. An encounter with a believer should be a unique experience, one that carries a distinctive “taste” amidst a world of bland personal opinion and selfish actions.

In being genuinely concerned for the things of God, a believer will naturally demonstrate a quality that stands out from the experiences that most people have in their relationships with others. There will be a positive “something” that separates the believer from the rest of a person’s worldly interactions.

Drawing on the metaphor of Yeshua, salt can be an enhancement to the flavor of food. It is also a means of preservation and healing. These are the characteristics and influences that a believer will have on those around them. All of these stem from a godly heart that wants to influence others for their good while doing the right thing at all times.

If we are not demonstrating these “salty” values, then our faith is serving no real purpose; it hasn’t made a difference to anyone but ourselves.

Ultimately, is that a true faith?