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Matthew HenryAlong with the instruction to build our spiritual houses upon rock, another passage in Matthew 7 from the Sermon on the Mount which bears close scrutiny is our Lord’s teaching on who will be turned away from the kingdom of heaven.

I Never Knew You

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

It is in the three-year Lectionary. One can only wonder about the sermons preached on it. Any number of clergy — as well as congregants — are guilty.

Matthew Henry’s commentary unpacks this passage brilliantly. Excerpts follow. Emphases in bold are mine.

We have an exhortation to sincerity in prayer and use of our Lord’s name:

I. He shows, by a plain remonstrance, that an outward profession of religion, however remarkable, will not bring us to heaven, unless there be a correspondent conversation, Matthew 7:21-23. All judgment is committed to our Lord Jesus the keys are put into his hand he has power to prescribe new terms of life and death, and to judge men according to them: now this is a solemn declaration pursuant to that power. Observe here,

(1.) That it will not suffice to say, Lord, Lord in word and tongue to own Christ for our Master, and to make addresses to him, and professions of him accordingly: in prayer to God, in discourse with men, we must call Christ, Lord, Lord we say well, for so he is (John 13:13) but can we imagine that this is enough to bring us to heaven, that such a piece of formality as this should be so recompensed, or that he who knows and requires the heart should be so put off with shows for substance? Compliments among men are pieces of civility that are returned with compliments, but they are never paid as real services and can they then be of an account with Christ? There may be a seeming importunity in prayer, Lord, Lord: but if inward impressions be not answerable to outward expressions, we are but as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. This is not to take us off from saying, Lord, Lord from praying, and being earnest in prayer, from professing Christ’s name, and being bold in professing it, but from resting in these, in the form of godliness, without the power.

Then the call to obey Christ:

(2.) That it is necessary to our happiness that we do the will of Christ, which is indeed the will of his Father in heaven. The will of God, as Christ’s Father, is his will in the gospel, for there he is made known, as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: and in him our Father. Now this is his will, that we believe in Christ, that we repent of sin, that we live a holy life, that we love one another. This is his will, even our sanctification. If we comply not with the will of God, we mock Christ in calling him Lord, as those did who put on him a gorgeous robe, and said, Hail, King of the Jews. Saying and doing are two things, often parted in conversation of men: he that said, I go, sir, stirred never a step (Matthew 21:30) but these two things God has joined in his command, and let no man that puts them asunder think to enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Some of us — ‘hypocrites’ — try to substitute legalism, ‘healing’, speaking in tongues and other wonderful works for obedience. This is a particularly sharp warning not to do so which bears rereading:

2. The hypocrite’s plea against the strictness of this law, offering other things in lieu of obedience, Matthew 7:22 … They put in their plea with great importunity, Lord, Lord and with great confidence, appealing to Christ concerning it Lord, does thou not know, (1.) That we have prophesied in thy name? Yes, it may be so Balaam and Caiaphas were overruled to prophesy, and Saul was against his will among the prophets, yet that did not save them. These prophesied in his name, but he did not send them they only made use of his name to serve a turn. Note, A man may be a preacher, may have gifts for the ministry, and an external call to it, and perhaps some success in it, and yet be a wicked man may help others to heaven, and yet come short himself. (2.) That in thy name we have cast out devils? That may be too Judas cast out devils, and yet was a son of perdition. Origen says, that in his time so prevalent was the name of Christ to cast out devils, that sometimes it availed when named by wicked Christians. A man might cast devils out of others, and yet have a devil, nay, be a devil himself. (3.) That in thy name we have done many wonderful works. There may be a faith of miracles, where there is no justifying faith none of that faith which works by love and obedience. Gifts of tongues and healing would recommend men to the world, but it is real holiness or sanctification that is accepted of God. Grace and love are a more excellent way than removing mountains, or speaking with the tongues of men and of angels, 1 Corinthians 13:1,2. Grace will bring a man to heaven without working miracles, but working miracles will never bring a man to heaven without grace. Observe, That which their heart was upon, in doing these works, and which they confided in, was the wonderfulness of them. Simon Magus wondered at the miracles (Acts 8:13), and therefore would give any money for power to do the like. Observe, They had not many good works to plead: they could not pretend to have done many gracious works of piety and charity one such would have passed better in their account than many wonderful works, which availed not at all, while they persisted in disobedience. Miracles have now ceased, and with them this plea but do not carnal hearts still encourage themselves in their groundless hopes, with the like vain supports? They think they shall go to heaven, because they have been of good repute among professors of religion, have kept fasts, and given alms, and have been preferred in the church as if this would atone for their reigning pride, worldliness, and sensuality and want of love to God and man. Bethel is their confidence (Jeremiah 48:13), they are haughty because of the holy mountain (Zephaniah 3:11) and boast that they are the temple of the Lord, Jeremiah 7:4. Let us take heed of resting in external privileges and performances, lest we deceive ourselves, and perish eternally, as multitudes do, with a lie in our right hand.

That’s quite a slap in the face of legalism, sensationalism and outward appearances! Sadly, however, these things are all the rage in our time. This bears repeating:

Grace will bring a man to heaven without working miracles, but working miracles will never bring a man to heaven without grace.

As does this:

Let us take heed of resting in external privileges and performances, lest we deceive ourselves, and perish eternally, as multitudes do, with a lie in our right hand.

It gets worse for people who base their lives on outward piety and hidden sin:

How it is expressed I never knew you [;] “I never owned you as my servants, no, not when you prophesied in my name, when you were in the height of your profession, and were most extolled.” This intimates, that if he had ever known them, as the Lord knows them that are his, had ever owned them and loved them as his, he would have known them, and owned them, and loved them, to the end but he never did know them, for he always knew them to be hypocrites, and rotten at heart, as he did Judas therefore, says he, depart from me. Has Christ need of such guests? When he came in the flesh, he called sinners to him (Matthew 9:13), but when he shall come again in glory, he will drive sinners from him.

Ultimately:

They that would not come to him to be saved, must depart from him to be damned. To depart from Christ is the very hell of hell it is the foundation of all the misery of the damned, to be cut off from all hope of benefit from Christ and he mediation. Those that go no further in Christ’s service than a bare profession, he does not accept, nor will he own them in the great day. See from what a height of hope men may fall into the depth of misery! How they may go to hell, by the gates of heaven! This should be an awakening word to all Christians. If a preacher, one that cast out devils, and wrought miracles, be disowned of Christ for working iniquity what will become of us, if we be found such? And if we be such, we shall certainly be found such. At God’s bar, a profession of religion will not bear out any man in the practice and indulgence of sin therefore let every one that names the name of Christ, depart from all iniquity.

This is such a stark and pointed truth — ‘convicting’, as Americans would say.

I have read Henry’s passage several times over the weekend. I hope that you, too, will find it beneficial to your Christian walk.

hiding thebreakthroughorgOur Lord’s final teaching in the Sermon on the Mount concerns our spiritual foundation (Matthew 7:24-27):

Build Your House on the Rock

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

This reading is included in the three-year Lectionary. However, it bears close examination.

True conversion and obedience have been an intractable problem since the earliest days of the Church. Heresy entered quickly, some (Simon Magus) thought it was magic, others applied legalism instead of grace and, for many decades now, some Christian leaders have attempted to make the Church a worldly institution.

Matthew Henry explains how Jesus set out this teaching to the multitude (emphases mine). Henry died early in the 18th century and in his ministry encountered the same mindsets as clergy do today:

The hearers of Christ’s word are here divided into two sorts some that hear, and do what they hear others that hear and do not. Christ preached now to a mixed multitude, and he thus separates them, one from the other, as he will at the great day, when all nations shall be gathered before him. Christ is still speaking from heaven by his word and Spirits, speaks by ministers, by providences, and of those that hear him there are two sorts.

(1.) Some that hear his sayings and do them: blessed be God that there are any such, though comparatively few. To hear Christ is not barely to give him the hearing, but to obey him. Note, It highly concerns us all to do what we hear of the saying of Christ. It is a mercy that we hear his sayings: Blessed are those ears, Matthew 13:16,17. But, if we practise not what we hear, we receive that grace in vain. To do Christ’s sayings is conscientiously to abstain from the sins that he forbids, and to perform the duties that he requires. Our thoughts and affections, our words and actions, the temper of our minds, and the tenour of our lives, must be conformable to the gospel of Christ that is the doing he requires. All the sayings of Christ, not only the laws he has enacted, but the truths he has revealed, must be done by us. They are a light, not only to our eyes, but to our feet, and are designed not only to inform our judgments, but to reform our hearts and lives: nor do we indeed believe them, if we do not live up to them. Observe, It is not enough to hear Christ’s sayings, and understand them, hear them, and remember them, hear them, and talk of them, repeat them, dispute for them but we must hear, and do them. This do, and thou shalt live. Those only that hear, and do, are blessed (Luke 11:28; John 13:17), and are akin to Christ. Matthew 12:50.

(2.) There are others who hear Christ’s sayings and do them not their religion rests in bare hearing, and goes no further like children that have the rickets, their heads swell with empty notions, and indigested opinions, but their joints are weak, and they heavy and listless they neither can stir, nor care to stir, in any good duty they hear God’s words, as if they desired to know his ways, like a people that did righteousness, but they will not do them, Ezekiel 33:30,31; Isaiah 58:2. Thus they deceive themselves, as Micah, who thought himself happy, because he had a Levite to be his priest, though he had not the Lord to be his God. The seed is sown, but it never comes up they see their spots in the glass of the word, but wash them off, James 1:22,24. Thus they put a cheat upon their own souls for it is certain, if our hearing be not the means of our obedience, it will be the aggravation of our disobedience. Those who only hear Christ’s sayings, and do them not, sit down in the midway to heaven, and that will never bring them to their journey’s end. They are akin to Christ only by the half-blood, and our law allows not such to inherit.

The first group builds a spiritual house on the rock of Christ. The second on sand, where they fall prey to temptation and experience problems with faith.

John MacArthur examines the latter group in detail. Note that some appear to be saved and, in reality, are not:

apart from hypocrites, there are two categories of the deceived in the church, the superficial and the involved.  The superficial are the ones who call themselves Christians because when they were little they went to church or Sunday School or they got confirmed or made a decision, quote/unquote, “for Christ”  …

Then there’s the involved who are deceived and they’re a much more subtle and serious group.  They’re in the church up to their neck involved, and they know the gospel, they know the theology but they don’t obey the Word of God.  They live in a constant state of sinfulness.  Now, how does a deceived person know he’s deceived?  How can we spot such a person?  Let me give you some keys, and I want you to think these through

Now, not everybody in these keys that I’m going to give you is really deceived but these are good indicators that someone might be deceived.  If you want to spot someone who’s deceived, look first of all for someone who’s seeking feelings, blessings, experiences, healings, angels, miracles.  Why?  Chances are they’re more interested in the byproducts of the faith than they are the faith itself.  They’re more interested in what they can get than the glory God can get.  They’re more interested in themselves than in the exaltation of Christ.

Secondly, if you’re looking to see who might be deceived, look for people who are more committed to the denomination, the church, the organization than to the Word of God.  Their kind of Christianity may be purely social …

Thirdly, look for people who are involved in theology as an academic interest.  And you’ll find them all over the colleges and seminaries of our land.  People who study theology, write books on theology, absolutely void of the righteousness of Christ.  Theology for them is intellectual activity.

Fourthly, look for people who always seem stuck on one overemphasized point of theology.  This is the person who bangs the proverbial drum for his own little area, some crazy quirk.  And it usually is not some great divine insight.  They’d like you to think that they are so close to God they have a great divine insight no one else has.  The fact of the matter is they’re seeking a platform for the feeding of their ego.  Watch for people with a lack of balance

And one other thought.  When you look for somebody who might be deceived, look for someone who is overindulgent in the name of grace, overindulgent in the name of grace.  Lacks penitence, a true contrite heart, and so forth.  Now, they all may be deceived and on the broad road to destruction, thinking all the while they’re going to heaven

This is a pretty wide net. I’ve fallen foul of at least one of these in years past!

Those of us with websites presenting a ‘Christian’ perspective, even in a secular context, bear a heavy responsibility.

How are we representing Christianity? Are we repelling people unnecessarily through legalism or a misreading of the Bible? Are we discussing the grace and peace of Christ?

Or are we placing the power of man above the power of God? Some of us do by dwelling on things that cannot be fully substantiated. Some of us alarm others unnecessarily about the world, whether that be climate change or conspiracy theories. Others write as if they are carrying a king-size banner of faith when they actually have deep-rooted personal unbelief or issues to resolve.

Are we permanently angry or fearful? Are we banging on about the same earthly thing all the time and not moving on to speak of our Lord? Are we reading the Bible, the Reformers and men of true faith or are we studying what panicked sect leaders have to say? Are we seeking the eternal truth or a dark thrill?

How have our inner lives changed over the past five years? The past ten? Are our preoccupations dark or are they of hope in Christ?

Is ours a foundation of rock or is it one of sand?

May we:

Pray for balance.

Pray for personal faith.

Pray for sanctification.

Pray for increase of all of these.

Pray, pray, pray.

In closing, a thought from John MacArthur on conversion in this sermon from the 1970s:

Christianity has become so superficial.  It just galls me to hear some of the presentations of Christ that are supposed to be legitimate.  Sermons that have absolutely nothing to do with the gospel, and then you give an invitation at the end and people are accepting who knows what. 

There’s no deep plowing, there’s no spadework, there’s no foundation, there’s no brokenness of heart.  Arthur Pink says, “If I have never mourned over my waywardness then I have no solid ground for rejoicing”  …

Dig deep, the one who digs deep empties himself of self-righteousness, empties himself of self-sufficiency, knows he has nothing, knows he’s not commendable, overwhelmed with his sin …  He makes the maximum effort to place the Word of God in his heart that he might not sin

He is interested in a genuine love relationship with Jesus Christ, not a routine of spiritual activity.  He does not build on visions.  He does not build on experiences.  He does not build on supposed miracles.  He builds on the Word of God, and he builds for God’s glory not his own.

Listen.  Many people want spiritual power, look at Simon [Magus] in Acts 8.  He wanted to buy the power of the Spirit of God.  And Peter says, “Your money perish with you,” you phony.  Many people want the power.  They just aren’t interested in living according to God’s standards.  They’re a sham; they’re building on sand.  They want to know what Jesus can do for them.  They want the goodies, chasing signs and wonders, not committed to Christ at all.

May we carefully consider the state of our souls and our personal faith in a humble, contrite way.

Bible openThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 7:28-29

The Authority of Jesus

28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

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These verses conclude the Sermon on the Mount recounted in Matthew 5, 6 and 7.

Jesus’s final Sermon on the Mount message, which I’ll go into tomorrow, was the instruction to build one’s house on a solid foundation of rock rather than an unstable one of sand (Matthew 7:24-27). It is an analogy of faith, obedience and salvation contrasted with one of hypocrisy and condemnation.

Afterward, Matthew’s Gospel tells us the ‘crowds were astonished at his teaching’ in this greatest of sermons (verse 28) and sensed His ‘authority’, very much unlike what emanated from what their scribes (verse 29).

These are positive and negative verses. In one sense, they are encouraging to read. On the other hand, they also point to rejection.

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains (emphases mine):

Now, 1. They were astonished at this doctrine it is to be feared that few of them were brought by it to follow him: but for the present, they were filled with wonder. Note, It is possible for people to admire good preaching, and yet to remain in ignorance and unbelief to be astonished, and yet not sanctified.

And:

2. The reason was because he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. The scribes pretended to as much authority as any teachers whatsoever, and were supported by all the external advantages that could be obtained, but their preaching was mean, and flat, and jejune: they spake as those what were not themselves masters of what they preached: the word did not come from them with any life or force they delivered it as a school-boy says his lesson but Christ delivered his discourse, as a judge gives his charge. He did indeed, dominari in conscionibus–deliver his discourses with a tone of authority his lessons were law his word a word of command. Christ, upon the mountain, showed more true authority, than the scribes in Moses’s seat. Thus when Christ teaches by his Spirit in the soul, he teaches with authority. He says, Let there be light, and there is light.

John MacArthur preached on these verses in the 1970s:

What was the response this day?  A great revival, tremendous conversions?  No.  Verse 28, “It came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were – ” converted.  No?  No they weren’t converted.  They were “astonished; For he taught them as one having authority, not as the scribes.”  All they did was analyze it

They were astonished.  We could use a lot of words for that.  It means they were awed, they were amazed, the were dumbfounded, they were bewildered.  But I looked it up in the Greek text, and it literally means they were struck out of themselves or they were struck out of their senses.  In the vernacular, it blew their minds

It blew them away that anybody could stand up there and say all of those things with such power, exousia, authority, such power, such dynamic and not do it like the scribes.  And how did the scribes do it?  They just quoted other people.  They were fallible and they stacked up a lot of other fallible people as their source.  Jesus just flat out said it, and it blew them away. 

They had never heard such wisdom, they had never seen such depth, they had never understood such scope.  Every dimension of human life was touched in an economy of words that was breathtaking.  They had never heard such deep insight into the law of God or the sin of man.  They had never heard such fearful warnings about hell, hellfire and judgment. 

They had never heard anybody who so confronted the religious leaders of the time.  They were utterly shocked that He didn’t use anybody else as an authority but seemed to stand upon His own authority.  And that’s where it ends.  They were shocked

But that’s not the way it ought to end for you.  You should be more than shocked, more than amazed.  You should be converted.  That’s what Jesus is after.  They never heard anybody speak the truth like He did.  They never heard anybody speak of divine matters with such clarity.  They never heard anybody speak with such love.  They never heard anybody speak with such absolute utter and total power and authority. 

But they didn’t respond the right way.  I mean, they couldn’t believe that a Man would say He was the fulfillment of the law, that a Man would say He was the determiner of righteousness, that a Man would say He was the corrector of the scribes and Pharisees.  They couldn’t believe that a Man would claim to be the way of life, that a Man would claim to be God Jehovah, that a Man would claim to be judge of all, the one who could come and make judgment on everybody.  They couldn’t believe that a Man like this could say He was the King.  And all they got was astonishment

The Sermon on the Mount is much more than the Beatitudes and the Golden Rule. It includes many difficult teachings which should reach all of us at our core. It should point to our examining our own spiritual state. It should encourage us to ask ourselves whether we are truly obedient to Christ’s teachings.

Do we accept some and not others? If so, can we call ourselves Christians? Do our lives reflect obedience or rejection?

Whilst much of the Sermon on the Mount is in the three-year Lectionary, some passages are not. I have written about these over the past few months. What follows is a recap with links. All can be found on my Essential Bible Verses page:

Matthew 5:25-26 – anger, sin, holding grudges, improper worship because of interpersonal conflict

Matthew 5:31-32 – adultery, divorce, marriage

Matthew 6:7-15 – Lord’s Prayer

Matthew 6:22-23 – the eye lamp of the body

Matthew 7:1-6 – judging others, pearls before swine

Matthew 7:7-11 – ask and you shall receive

Matthew 7:12-14 – Golden Rule, enter by the narrow gate, wide gate leads to destruction

Matthew 7:15-20prophets, sheep’s clothing, ravenous wolves, pastors, clergy, a tree and its fruit

May we study and meditate on these. If we haven’t already, may we experience true conversion and obedience.

Next time: Matthew 8:1-4

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (‘Beware of False Prophets’, Parts 1 and 2).

Matthew 7:15-20

A Tree and Its Fruit

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

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These verses are part of the Sermon on the Mount, the content of which is in Matthew 5, 6 and 7.

This passage ties in with and follows on from last week’s, which concerns the narrow gate.

Jesus tells His audience to beware of false prophets (verse 15) who come in an agreeable appearance — sheep’s clothing — but who are, in reality,  ravenous wolves, evil and soul-destroying.

John MacArthur unpacks what our Lord means. ‘Beware’ is (emphases mine):

a severe word.  Literally, in the Greek it means, hold your mind back from.  Don’t ever expose your mind to the influence of a false prophet.  Don’t pay attention to, give heed to, follow, notice, devote yourself, don’t even put your mind in his vicinity.  They’re dangerous, they pervert the mind, they poison the soul.  You see, we see the results of what they do in 2 Peter: “Many people follow their pernicious ways.” 

He explains ‘sheep’s clothing’:

The wool of the sheep, when it was sheared, was made into cloth for garments; the mark of a shepherd was he wore a wool cloak.  Israel is much like California; the evenings are very cold, even in the summer it cools down, and they needed that.  The idea is not that he comes dressed like a sheep; the idea is that he comes dressed like a what?  Shepherd, wearing the garment made from the sheep. Sheep’s clothing is just another term for wool.  And so as the false prophet wore the garment of the prophet, the false shepherd wears the garment of the shepherd.  It isn’t that we’re dealing with a sheep who’s infiltrated, it is that we’re dealing with a shepherd who has infiltrated. 

Britain’s left-wing Fabian Society has a stained glass window which has a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing (image here, above the globe the men are forging). Admittedly, that is a secular image, yet they’re being honest about themselves! Avoid them and all their works, including the Labour Party and London School of Economics! But, I digress.

In verse 16, Jesus says that we will recognise them by their fruits and asks His audience, by way of simple illustration, whether grapes can be gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles. It is impossible. He develops this further by discussing good and bad fruit (verse 17), the former coming from healthy trees and the latter from diseased ones (verse 18).

Diseased trees are cut down and burned (verse 19). In other words, false prophets will be eternally condemned.

Therefore, we can judge prophets — these days, clergy — by their fruits (verse 20). Those bearing bad fruit might be greedy or lustful.

Just as bad if not worse, and increasingly common these days, are those who lead us from the narrow gate. Are they preaching salvation? Are they telling us to repent? Are they encouraging us to examine our sin? Are they preaching Christ crucified? Are they presenting Christ biblically in their sermons? Are they teaching us about the doctrines of grace and mercy? If not, they are wolves.

Liberation theology, economic justice, environmental worship, syncretism (combining other deities with Christianity) and many more postmodern aberrations are signs of wolves.

We have many wolves in our midst, sometimes whole denominations full of errant clergy taught at seminaries which promote false, worldly, un-Christian, unbiblical teachings.

In many ways, many clergy of our era are rather similar to Christ’s era with self-righteous, false, dangerous Pharisees and scribes. Whilst the Jewish leaders of our Lord’s day prescribed legalism for everyone but had lax rules for themselves, our clergy teach us that anything goes. Both are equally bad. Our errant clergy are responsible for leading their flocks to eternal condemnation, unless those people pray for discernment and leave for another congregation with a true shepherd.

In closing, Matthew Henry has this advice for evaluating clergy:

What do they tend to do? What affections and practices will they lead those into, that embrace them? If the doctrine be of God, it will tend to promote serious piety, humility, charity, holiness, and love, with other Christian graces but if, on the contrary, the doctrines these prophets preach have a manifest tendency to make people proud, worldly, and contentious, to make them loose and careless in their conversations, unjust or uncharitable, factious or disturbers of the public peace if it indulge carnal liberty, and take people off from governing themselves and their families by the strict rules of the narrow way, we may conclude, that this persuasion comes not of him that calleth us, Galatians 5:8. This wisdom is from above, James 3:15. Faith and a good conscience are held together, 1 Timothy 1:19,3:9. Note, Doctrines of doubtful disputation must be tried by graces and duties of confessed certainty: those opinions come not from God that lead to sin: but if we cannot know them by their fruits, we must have recourse to the great touchstone, to the law, and to the testimony do they speak according to that rule?

It’s not a sin to walk away from a church with a false prophet — pastor — at its head. In fact, one is doing the right thing provided one continues to pray often and study Scripture during a search for godly preaching.

Ignore false teachers who say you must stay with their churches or you are condemned. They will try to intimidate members of the congregation who see through them. I once knew someone like that. Fortunately, he retired not long afterward. We now have a vicar who preaches and teaches the Word of God.

Next time: Matthew 7:28-29

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 7:12-14

The Golden Rule

12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy[a] that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

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Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount continues (Matthew 5, 6 and 7).

‘So’ in verse 12 follows on from what Jesus said in verse 11, covered in last week’s post:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

It also ties in with His words in the first two verses of Matthew 7, which I also wrote about:

7 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.

Matthew Henry explains our Lord’s use of the Law and the Prophets in this context (emphases mine):

It is the summary of that second great commandment, which is one of the two, on which hang all the law and the prophets, Matthew 22:40. We have not this in so many words, either in the law or the prophets, but it is the concurring language of the whole. All that is there said concerning our duty towards our neighbour (and that is no little) may be reduced to this rule. Christ has here adopted it into this law so that both the Old Testament and the New agree in prescribing this to us, to do as we would be done by.

Whilst we often hear Matthew 7:12 quoted, even by secularists, we hear the next two verses much less often. It is easy to forget them in an era when everything goes in today’s churches.

Verses 13 and 14 are particularly crucial and pertinent to those notional Christians who say that everyone will be saved. That is not what Jesus says. He tells us to enter by the narrow gate. The broader way is easier and ‘leads to destruction’ — eternal condemnation.

Also worth noting is His statement that the way leading to life is ‘hard’ and ‘those who find it are few’.

Does that sound like ‘all are saved’?

A similar passage is Luke 13:22-30, which begins as follows. (Similar wording is also in Matthew 7:21-23, part of the three-year Lectionary readings.)

The Narrow Door

22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’

There is no excuse to be made for heresy, syncretism, sin, ‘lifestyle choices’ and whatever else today’s churches are wrongly advocating. Powerful, apostate clergy will be among those crying out for the Lord to open the door on Judgement Day and His response will be that He never knew them.

Laypeople would also do well to ensure they do not fall into the same fatal trap, in particular, telling their children that the Lord loves everyone and will save them. It isn’t going to happen.

Henry sums it up this way:

There are but two ways, right and wrong, good and evil the way to heaven, and the way to hell in the one of which we are all of us walking: no middle place hereafter, no middle way now: the distinction of the children of men into saints and sinners, godly and ungodly, will swallow up all to eternity.

Henry and John MacArthur explain more about the narrow gate. In the King James Version the words used are ‘strait’ — small, tight — and ‘narrow’.

Henry states:

First, That the gate is strait. Conversion and regeneration are the gate, by which we enter into this way, in which we begin a life of faith and serious godliness out of a state of sin into a state of grace we must pass, by the new birth, John 3:3,5. This is a strait gate, hard to find, and hard to get through like a passage between two rocks, 1 Samuel 14:4. There must be a new heart, and a new spirit, and old things must pass away. The bent of the soul must be changed, corrupt habits and customs broken off what we have been doing all our days must be undone again. We must swim against the stream much opposition must be struggled with, and broken through, from without, and from within. It is easier to set a man against all the world than against himself, and yet this must be in conversion. It is a strait gate, for we must stoop, or we cannot go in at it we must become as little children high thoughts must be brought down nay, we must strip, must deny ourselves, put off the world, put off the old man we must be willing to forsake all for our interest in Christ. The gate is strait to all, but to some straiter than others as to the rich, to some that have been long prejudiced against religion ...

Secondly, That the way is narrow. We are not in heaven as soon as we have got through the strait gate, nor in Canaan as soon as we have got through the Red Sea no, we must go through a wilderness, must travel a narrow way, hedged in by the divine law, which is exceedingly broad, and that makes the way narrow[;] self must be denied, the body kept under, corruptions mortified, that are as a right eye and a right hand daily temptations must be resisted duties must be done that are against our inclination. We must endure hardness, must wrestle and be in an agony, must watch in all things, and walk with care and circumspection. We must go through much tribulation. It is hodos tethlimmenean afflicted way, a way hedged about with thorns blessed be God, it is not hedged up. The bodies we carry about with us, and the corruptions remaining in us, make the way of our duty difficult but, as the understanding and will grow more and more sound, it will open and enlarge, and grow more and more pleasant.

Thirdly, The gate being so strait and the way so narrow, it is not strange that there are but few that find it, and choose it. Many pass it by, through carelessness they will not be at the pains to find it they are well as they are, and see no need to change their way. Others look upon it, but shun it they like not to be so limited and restrained. Those that are going to heaven are but few, compared to those that are going to hell a remnant, a little flock, like the grape-gleanings of the vintage as the eight that were saved in the ark

John MacArthur likens this small, narrow way to a turnstile, through which only one person can enter at any time. This reinforces the idea that families and groups will not be saved, rather individuals. He says that Jesus was speaking of the Pharisees and the Jewish people of His time:

… many commentators would say that the best expression of this in a contemporary way would be a turnstile.  One of those things which you have to go through all alone; the metal is very close and there’s a little arm there that you push, and you go through.  Now, I know our family, when we go to the zoo, or we go to get on a train somewhere, or go somewhere on an airplane, every once in a while you’ve got to go through something like that, a turnstile. 

And everybody is in a big hurry, and we always realize when we get there that we can’t all go through together, can we, children?  We must go through one at a time.  That’s the way it is with a narrow gate.  You don’t come to the kingdom of Christ in groups.  The Jews believed hey, we’re in the kingdom, we’re all on the road together, we all came through together, based on Abrahamic heritage, based on Jewish ancestry, based on circumcision, we’re all here together.  And I think there are people who think that they’re on the right road to heaven, they got on when they got to church.  They came to church, we’re all in the church and the whole church got on together.  There are no groups coming through the turnstile, folks

You go through all alone.  Salvation is individual.  People have never been saved in pairs.  Oh, when one believes it may influence another to believe, but everyone’s salvation is exclusive and intensely personal.  It admits only one at a time.  And that’s kind of hard, you know.  Because all our life is spent rushing around with the crowd.  All of our life is spent doing whatever everybody else does, being a part of the group, being a part of the gang, being a part of the system around us, being accepted.  And all of a sudden, Christ says, “You’re going to have to come, and you’re going to have to come through this deal all by yourself.”  And to a Pharisee, that meant you’re going to have to say goodbye to those people and that system, and step out alone.

There’s a price to pay, a real price.  It isn’t enough to claim your Abrahamic ancestry, it isn’t enough to go back to your circumcision, it isn’t enough to say, “I was born in a Christian family; I’ve been in the church all my life.”  You don’t come into the Kingdom in groups.  You come in an individual act of faith.  You must enter, you must enter the narrow gate, you must enter alone.  Listen to this one: you must enter with great difficulty – with great difficulty … 

He acknowledges that this encourages unbelievers to be hostile to Christianity. It is interesting to note that he preached on Matthew’s Gospel in the 1970s. Even then, there was hostile opposition:

People say, “You know, Christianity doesn’t give room for anybody else.”  That’s exactly right.  We don’t do that because we’re selfish, or because we’re proud, or because we’re egotistical; we do that because that’s what God said

If God said there were 48 ways to salvation, I’d preach all 48 of them.  But there aren’t.  “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be” – what – “saved.”  None other name.  Jesus – Acts 4:12.  “I am the bread of life – I am the way the truth and the life – I am the door – anyone who comes in any other way is a thief and a robber,” John 10.  “There is,” I Timothy 2, “one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.”  Only one, no other name, Christ and Christ alone, it is that narrow, it is that prescribed.  There are no alternatives.  You must enter.  By an act of the will, an act of faith, you have to enter on God’s terms through God’s prescribed gate; and Christ is that gate.  He is that way.  And holy God has the right to determine the basis of salvation, and He has determined that it is Jesus Christ and Him alone, and that’s the way it is

For this reason — and because many cannot give up their attachement to the world — it is hard to accept our Lord’s teachings. MacArthur cited one pertinent example:

A West Indian who had chosen Islam over Christianity said this: “My reason is that Islam is a noble, broad path.  There is room for a man and his sins on it, and the way of Christ is far too narrow.” 

Hmm. It seems to me that man knew very little about Christianity before he converted to Islam. Whilst he was right in saying Christ’s way is very narrow, he misunderstood the concept of abundant divine grace and mercy with regard to our sins. However, Christ, with His love and forgiveness, makes no allowance for sin.

In closing, MacArthur has good observations about the Sermon on the Mount, which many people misinterpret:

Let me suggest to you there are two things you cannot do with the Sermon on the Mount.  One of them is you cannot stand back and admire it.  Jesus is not interested in bouquets for His ethics.  Jesus is not interested in folks who want to just admire the virtues of the ethical statement of the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus wants a decision about your destiny.  I believe there is a second thing you can’t do with the Sermon on the Mount, and that is to push it into some prophetic tomorrow.  I don’t think Jesus is suggesting that this is for some far future era. 

I think He is demanding a decision now, in this time …  What Jesus demanded was a choice, an act, an ultimate decision, to be made at that time and that moment, on the basis of what He had just said.  A deliberate choice has to be made.  Christ came to bring a kingdom.  He was a king.  He was the King.  He was the King of kings.  And He came with a kingdom that was unique, and special, and separate, and different from all the kingdoms of the world

The Sermon on the Mount is much more than ethics; it is about following Christ our Lord, the eternal King of Kings.

Next time: Matthew 7:15-20

Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 7:7-11

Ask, and It Will Be Given

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

———————————————————————

Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount continues (Matthew 5, 6 and 7).

I wrote about selected ‘forbidden’ passages as follows:

Matthew 5:25-26 – Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, anger, sin, holding grudges, improper worship because of interpersonal conflict

Matthew 5:31-32 – Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, adultery, divorce, marriage

Matthew 6:7-15 – Sermon on the Mount, Lord’s Prayer, Jesus, prayer

Matthew 6:22-23 – Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, the eye as lamp of the body

Matthew 7:1-6 – Sermon on the Mount, judging others, speck v log in eye, hypocrisy

Jesus continues His discourse by telling us that, if we ask and seek things from God, He will provide them (verses 7, 8). However, John MacArthur explains that this is not automatic nor applicable to everyone (emphases mine):

asking — you have to be a child of God to receive, and an obedient child of God, and a selfless child of God. And, finally, you have to submit it all to His will. I John 5:14 and 15, “In whatever we ask, we know we receive of Him if we ask according to His will.” That’s not a blank check. It’s just that when the conditions are right — you’re His child, you’re His obedient child, you’re His unselfish child, and you ask according to His will, in order that He may be glorified — He’ll do it.

When we do not receive what we ask for, it is possible — and this often becomes apparent later — that better things lie ahead. We shouldn’t try to force situations.

MacArthur gives us an example of seeking:

Ask is very simple. A child does that. There’s no involvement in it. There’s no participation in it. You just ask. Seek is stronger than an asking. There’s a participation in it. At least you’re moving your eyes. Knock, you’re banging away. There’s a greater participation. So that even though we know everything comes from the Lord, that does not assume that we are not actively, aggressively, perseveringly involved in its fulfillment.

I mean, I don’t just sit at my office and say, “Lord, I want to preach a great sermon Sunday. Please, I ask you, give me a great sermon.” No, what I do is I ask the Lord all week for that, and then I seek that by going through the Word of God and reading and reading. And then I begin banging on the Lord, in a sense, by saying, “Lord, I’m struggling with this thing and I want to understand it,” and this one this morning, which isn’t so hot, anyway, I rewrote three times. And on and on you go, struggling with it. But the point is, I realize that God is the only one who can produce through me, but at the same time, I’ve got to be involved in that.

Matthew Henry has a marvellous exposition of these two verses:

Here is a precept in three words to the same purport, Ask, Seek, Knock (Matthew 7:7) that is, in one word, “Pray pray often pray with sincerity and seriousness pray, and pray again make conscience of prayer, and be constant in it make a business of prayer, and be earnest in it. Ask, as a beggar asks alms.” Those that would be rich in grace, must betake themselves to the poor trade of begging, and they shall find it a thriving trade. “Ask represent your wants and burthens to God, and refer yourselves to him for support and supply, according to his promise. Ask as a traveller asks the way to pray is to enquire of God, Ezekiel 36:37. Seek, as for a thing of value that we have lost, or as the merchantman that seeks goodly pearls. Seek by prayer, Daniel 9:3. Knock, as he that desires to enter into the house knocks at the door.” We would be admitted to converse with God, would be taken into his love, and favour, and kingdom sin has shut and barred the door against us by prayer, we knock Lord, Lord, open to us. Christ knocks at our door (Revelation 3:20; Song of Solomon 5:2) and allows us to knock at his, which is a favour we do not allow to common beggars. Seeking and knocking imply something more than asking and praying. 1. We must not only ask but seek we must second our prayers with our endeavors we must, in the use of the appointed means, seek for that which we ask for, else we tempt God. When the dresser of the vineyard asked for a year’s respite for the barren fig-tree, he added, I will dig about it, Luke 13:7,8. God gives knowledge and grace to those that search the scriptures, and wait at Wisdom’s gates and power against sin to those that avoid the occasions of it. 2. We must not only ask, but knock we must come to God’s door, must ask importunately not only pray, but plead and wrestle with God we must seek diligently we must continue knocking must persevere in prayer, and in the use of means must endure to the end in the duty.

In verse 9, Jesus makes this more easily understood by discussing the parent-child relationship. Does a parent give his child a tooth-breaking stone instead of bread or a serpent instead of fish (verse 10)? Of course not, unless he or she is perverse or completely unhinged. Instinctively, a parent wants to feed his children. They are his flesh and blood.

Good parents love their children and want the best for them. With that in mind, our Lord then says that God will care even more deeply for our needs and desires (verse 11). He says ‘you then, who are evil’, meaning prone to sin by nature. God, who is perfect in everything, especially love, will provide even more if only we ask, seek and knock.

Henry unpacks this for us:

First, God is more knowing[;] parents are often foolishly fond, but God is wise, infinitely so he knows what we need, what we desire, and what is fit for us. Secondly, God is more kind. If all the compassions of all the tender fathers in the world were crowded into the bowels of one, yet compared with the tender mercies of our God, they would be but as a candle to the sun, or a drop to the ocean. God is more rich, and more ready to give to his children than the fathers of our flesh can be for he is the Father of our spirits, an ever-loving, ever-living Father.

MacArthur takes this a step further:

And the point is this. If evil, unregenerate, sinful fathers give their kids the basics of life, don’t you think God’ll do that? And the idea that I see here is that God is the absolute giving Father, who gives to all what they need, knowing full well they could never give back to Him anything, in kind or measure. And if that’s the way He is, then isn’t that the way we, His children, should be toward others? See?

We will see in the next passage!

Next time: Matthew 7:12-14

 

Earlier this week, I featured a post on the Revd Louis Pernot, a Calvinist pastor in Paris who is an apiarist — beekeeper — in his spare time.

A number of Pastor Pernot’s sermons can be found on the website for his church, l’Eglise Reformée de l’Etoile, near the Arc de Triomphe.  I have enjoyed reading them and thought you might like them, too.  Yesterday, I featured his sermon on body, soul and spirit.  The next two posts bring you Pr Pernot’s reflections on happiness and the Gospel message.

Discussions on happiness are everywhere today.  My hypothesis is that it is the Baby Boomer generation which was the first to be preoccupied by happiness.  During my last year at university, many of my classmates were asking each other, ‘Are you happy?’  When you think about 20-somethings asking such a question when they are still wet behind the ears, it’s laughable. Now our pundits and politicians are joining in, advocating ‘happiness classes’ for schools and taking the nation’s pulse with a ‘happiness index’.

As Pastor Pernot will show us below in ‘Can we learn to be happy?’ (2008), happiness is far from being a cut-and-dried proposition.  He takes the Beatitudes — the Sermon on the Mount — as his main text; I have used Matthew 5:1-12 from the ESV to illustrate.

The Sermon on the Mount

 1Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when hesat down, his disciples came to him.

The Beatitudes

 2And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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

 5“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

 6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

 7“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

 8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

 9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

 10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

What follows are excerpts from Pastor Pernot’s sermon.  It is worth noting that heureux means ‘happy’ but, in a biblical context, also means ‘blessed’, which is the case with the French translation of the Beatitudes and several other verses.  Emphases below are mine.

Before finding out whether we can learn to be happy, we should really ask if seeking happiness is a good thing. Perhaps happiness is not that necessary.  Isn’t our goal in life to be useful to the world, to serve a purpose, in order for our life to have meaning?  As to our own happiness, isn’t it a modern type of question, ultimately egotistical?  We ask it with regard to ourselves, but did Jesus have a happy life? Did Calvin or St Augustine have happy lives? And Bach, Mozart, Napoleon — among those whom we consider great people — did they have happy lives? That isn’t really the question [because] the value of one’s life doesn’t come from living a tranquil one but from engaging with the world and bringing something better to it. Part of the Gospel would support this, inviting us to sacrifice ourselves to service and to carry our cross, knowing (Mark 8:35):

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.

Having said that, happiness [as in ‘blessed’] is everywhere in Scripture, particularly the Gospels. This is the first word of the Psalms:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked

It is also the first word of Christ’s teachings in the Beatitudes — with eight mentions — as well as in His last words just before His death (John 13:17):

If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

Isn’t what makes happiness important the fact that we cannot do anything well unless we enjoy doing it in the first place?  … A doctor who doesn’t enjoy his profession cannot be a good physician. And how can a sad pastor proclaim the Good News of the Gospel?

So we have a paradox: the Gospel tells us that our own happiness and pleasure mustn’t be part of our search in life, rather that it is through following the Gospel that we find happiness … We find happiness only when we stop searching for it [Matthew 10:39]:

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

There is no contradiction here.  We mustn’t flee from happiness or, on the other hand, make ourselves miserable. Simply put, we shouldn’t make happiness the main object of our search in this life.

So, where does happiness come from and what is it exactly? The Gospel is emphatically clear on this point, and two passages in particular are fundamental here: first, in Acts (20:32-35) a saying of Christ … which is so well known we often forget its origin:

It is more blessed to give than to receive.

And then the passage where, after Jesus washes His disciples’ feet and tells them to go and do likewise, serving one another (John 13:17):

If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

From this we learn something fundamental: happiness is, essentially, service. It consists of ridding ourselves of self-interest — egotism — and reaching out to others.  Along the same lines, the word ‘ecstasy’, which relates to happiness, means ‘leaving oneself’. This is why we cannot find happiness by looking for it, because to do so would involve a purely self-centred quest.

‘Happy’ / ‘Blessed’ comes from a Hebrew word [Acheréi] which means ‘upright and in motion’. All the meaning of happiness is right there: happiness is not a state of being but a journey.  It’s not a monument or a fortress we can hold onto or defend in times of sadness or attack from the rest of the world;  it’s a dynamic that consists of adapting, advancing, changing, transforming ourselves … living.  Happiness is believing the way Abraham did — he walked forth leaving [his ego] behind …

The corollary is that happiness, difficult at the best of times, is not tranquillity. But this has an advantage in not considering happiness as a state of being, but, as a journey makes it somehow less fragile. If happiness depends on giving to others of oneself, then we risk nothing by not receiving anything in returnMy happiness, therefore, is dependent only on myself, therefore, I cannot lose it.  Whatever happens, we can always give of ourselves …

Which is why this simple sentence

It is more blessed to give than to receive

is so charged with meaning and expectation …

There is no passivity [in the Beatitudes]

Blessed are the peacemakers

Not ‘Blessed are those who live in peace’ or ‘Those who live in peace receive mercy’.  Happiness is bringing peace, forgiving others, loving others. The Beatitudes move outward from self to those to whom we can bring something — giving to others.

Even the four beatitudes which are difficult to understand, those which seem negative:

4Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

 5“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

 6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Those [verses] also go in the same direction; it’s paradoxical … happiness does not come from an accumulation of things but from the void within each of us … which gives us our place [in the world]

Happiness within the meaning of the Gospel isn’t the absence of unhappiness or suffering … it’s being part of the dynamic of life. Happiness is that journey which takes me out of myself towards someone else … Jesus tells us (John 15:13):

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

And this is why religious work involves [the notion that] ‘There’s something, someone, more important than you — it is the Other — with a capital ‘O’ — meaning, God Himself.’ Christians are called to turn towards other people and towards a journey leading them towards God, not themselves … Turning towards others is serving them, whether with food or refreshment, but also through peace, love, joy … Therein lies absolute happiness where there is nothing to fear, as Psalm 118[:6] says:

The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?

Meaning [that] I am no longer dependent on what happens to me, what I own — I am in another realm where true happiness — love — is service.

Can we learn to be happy?  I think so, as long as we rid ourselves of egotism, by learning to open ourselves to others, by learning how to love; yes, it’s possible, but it’s a long trek which takes the whole of our lifetime.  Happiness is not the greasy pole which we must climb to the top; [rather, it lies] in all the extraordinary things we encounter [along the way], down this road which leads us to an absolute love by giving the gift of self, towards the true meaning of love — and the secret profundity of happiness.

Tomorrow: The tyranny of happiness

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