In this brief and well-known saying Jesus contrasts two ways people live their lives, the easy way and the difficult way. Most people are on the easier path. It is broad and leads to a wide gate. Others follow the narrower path which is dangerous and difficult. This difficult path leads to a narrow gate. The Narrow Gate saying is difficult since it claims there are two ways to live, one leads to the kingdom of Heaven, and the more popular leads to destruction.

Narrow GateWe are nearing the end of the Sermon on the Mount and as many scholars observe, the material in chapter 7 is more difficult to outline. Nolland calls Matthew 7:13-27 “Challenges to Implement the Sermon.” Luke 13:24 has a similar saying. In response to the question whether those who will be saved are only a few, Jesus said “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” Instead of a gate (στενὴ ἡ πύλη), Luke has a door (διὰ τῆς στενῆς θύρας) and Luke does not mention the wide gate. The focus of this saying is on one’s own relationship with God, not trying to figure out who is in or out.  Pennington makes 7:13-8:1 a major section, “three warnings regarding the prospect of eschatological judgment” (Sermon, 272). R. T. France calls 7:13-27 as a “coda” which calls for a decision on the part of those who have heard Jesus’s teaching (Matthew, 282). There are three clear sections with similar themes which are increasingly eschatological. At the final judgment, there will be some who will be told “depart, I never knew you.”

The Sermon on the Mount is the model for living as a disciple of Jesus. Some people appear to be followers of Jesus, but they are not real disciples of Jesus. Why? True discipleship is difficult and the majority are on the easier path leading to destruction.

Although it is not clearly stated, in context of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has in mind “entering through the narrow gate” is entering the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is describing those who will enter eschatological kingdom. Pennington points out the Sermon is framed by “eschatological urgency” (Sermon, 271). In the Beatitudes Jesus says the poor will see the Kingdom (5:3), the meek will inherit the earth (5:5), and the kingdom belongs to the persecuted (5:10).

The disciples are already followers of Jesus who are on the narrow path (7:14) and are bearing good fruit (7:16). John Nolland thinks the kingdom of heaven is pictured as a city (Matthew, 332), Scot McKnight suggests the entrance to a Temple may be in mind (Sermon, 258). Perhaps the image is what one might experience Jerusalem on a pilgrimage.

This parable-like saying reflects a “two ways” theology.  The two ways are the way of life and the way of death, based on the blessings and curses of the Deuteronomy 30:11-20; Joshua 24:15 (“choose today whom you will serve”); Psalm 1, “blessed is the one who…” and “cursed is the one who…” This two ways theology appears in early Christian books such as Didache and Barnabas.

To enter a gate to a city, one must first follow the road to that gate. This implies a choice to travel a particular way for a long time in order to arrive at a particular gate. The decision might be made very early on in the trip.

For example, one might go from Galilee to Jerusalem and arrive via the Mount of Olives and enter through one of the eastern gates, or travel from Galilee to enter from the western side of the city at the Damascus Gate, or even loop around to the south and come up through the Dung Gate.

It is unlikely someone would travel all the way to an entry gate and then change their mind and walk around the city to enter through another gate. The path was chose to get to a particular gate. What motivates any of us to travel via one or another route? The most efficient route, the scenic route, the way to avoid traffic? Think about how to get to O’Hare airport, there are multiple ways to drive there (avoid traffic, avoid tolls, etc.)

Entering the gate of a city is the last thing one does before arriving, so the point of the metaphor is the “last judgment,” consistent with the rest of this final section of the Sermon.

Jesus warns about false prophets (7:15-20, according to 24:4, 24 these will come in the last days), false disciples who did miracles in Jesus name but do not enter the kingdom of God (7:21-23), and the foolish man who built his house on the sand (7:24-27). These warnings are similar to those in Matthew 22:1-14 and 24-25. Some wedding guests or servants enter the kingdom, while others remain on the outside, in the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

 

Logos is celebrating the most distinctive American holiday, Black Friday, with a week of deals. From November 16 at 10AM PST until Sunday November 25 at 11:59 PM PST, you can save up to 90% on selected resources for your Logos Library, including a few Mobile courses and a free copy of the Christian Standard Bible.

Check out all the deals here, but here are a few highlights:

There is a little something for every budget, so poke around and see what you can find. The deals are better because you do not have to leave the house or deal with holiday mall music (unless you are into that sort of thing).

Do not forget the November 2018  “Free book of the Month” is New Covenant Commentary on 2 Timothy and Titus (2014) by Aída Besançon Spencer, Nijay Gupta’s 1 & 2 Thessalonians (2016) for only 99 cents, and Michael Bird’s Colossians and Philemon (2009) for only $1.99. That is three good commentaries for your Logos library for a mere $3, less than a cup of that fancy coffee you like so much. As I was purchasing these commentaries I noticed Aída Spencer’s 1 Timothy commentary is only $4.99, if you want to complete your set of commentaries on the Pastoral Epistles in the New Covenant series. In fact, all the volumes of the New Covenant series available in the Logos Library are $4.99 right now.

My book, Jesus the Bridegroom for the Logos Bible Software for $4.99. This is part of the Wipf & Stock sale through Logos which (I assume) runs through the end of November 2018. The book is also available through Amazon and the Wipf & Stock website (the retail price is $33 but there are discounted copies at Amazon and Wipf & Stock). The Kindle version is only $9.99 and claims to have real page numbers, but I cannot see them reading the book with the Kindle App on an iPad. Still, the book looks great in Kindle.

In case you have not seen the announcements, Logos Bible Software released a major upgrade last week. I did a “first look” review of Logos 8 here. There are plenty of new features to justify an upgrade and the software runs much more efficiently than the previous version. Everything seems to run faster than Logos 7. You can save 25% on any upgrades to Logos 8 and pick five free books when you upgrade to Logos 8. Follow the link and used the code READINGACTS8.

The deals start November 16 at 10AM PST and end on Sunday November 25 at 11:59 PM. So enjoy your turkey and stock up some on great Logos Resources.

 

 

Jesus offers an intentionally humorous illustration: when a child asks for something to eat, a parent would not give then something bad (or dangerous).

Bread was baked in a small round loaf, more like a dinner roll than a modern loaf of bread, so potentially it could be mistaken for a stone. Both fish and snakes have scales, so it is possible to confuse the two.

Luke 11:1-13 includes two of these analogies after his version of the Lord’s Prayer and the parable of the Visitor at Midnight. He adds a third substitution: a scorpion for an egg. This may seem strange, but Middle Eastern scorpions are small and resemble a bird’s egg when it is asleep. This is an even stronger metaphor than the first two since the scorpion is very deadly. The point is not “how could the two be confused” but “why would you do such a thing?”

In the illustration, the child asks for something good and necessary for their lives and even then worst parent has the sense to give them something edible (and hopefully healthy).  If evil humans know how to give good things to their children, “how much more” will God, who is the ideal good Father, give good things to his children when they ask?

It is important to see the child is asking for some basic need, their daily bread (from Matthew 6:11). They are not asking for their wildest dreams, or to be wealthy and have a great car and gorgeous spouse, or to “have their boundaries expanded” as in the Prayer of Jabez. They are asking for their basic needs.

There is a responsibility on our part as well, we must ask if we expect to receive, we must knock if we expect the door to be opened.

Our theology shapes our prayer (McKnight, Sermon on the Mount, 247). What we believe about God shapes the way we pray to God. If our view of God is similar to a child’s view of Santa, then we will be very disappointed when our prayers are not answered. (“I asked for a pony and got pajamas instead.”) What happens when a child is disappointed by Santa year after year? They “grow up” and quit believing in him.

If our view of God is similar to a vending machine, we will be very disappointed when our prayers are not answered. If I do the right things (rituals, devotionals, etc), or do not commit too many sins, then God must answer my prayer with blessings, right? Think of those credit cards with some sort of a reward for spending. If I spend money and make my payments, they will give me money back at the end of the year, a “cash back bonus.” God does not really work like that.

Jesus describes God as the ultimate, good heavenly Father who wants the best for his children, even if those children do not understand what is best for them.

Along with Luke 11, this passage in Matthew 7 is usually used to teach persistence in prayer. If we consistently present our requests to God, he will answer them. This is foundational for the Prosperity Gospel and an anything-goes “name it and claim it” view of prayer. Many in the prosperity gospel movement believe it is God’s will for believers to be in good health, financially successful, and happy.

The problem is obvious, God does not always answer our prayer. We do not get the job, our sickness is not healed, etc. Sometimes pastors will say God always answers, but sometimes the answer is “no.” But that is not what this paragraph says. Jesus says “ask, and it will be given to you.” He then illustrates this and concludes that the Father will give good things to those who ask for them.

The result for some Christians is the fear their faith is not strong enough, perhaps there is unconfessed sin in their life, or they really are not persistent enough to attract God’s attention with their small problems. This is especially true if their pastor has told them God will give them whatever they want if they ask for it in the right way.

But is that what Jesus is teaching in Matthew 7:7-12? Does he say, “If you badger God long enough he will give you whatever you want”? Is the “name it and claim it” theology of the prosperity gospel right?  We need to understand what Jewish prayer was in the first century. Did they make prayer requests as evangelical Christians do today?

Jesus tells his disciples to Ask, Seek and Knock. To “ask God” is to expect him answer. But Jesus is speaking to his own Jewish disciples, the ones he has already instructed to call God “father” (Matthew 6:9).

Some kid might come up to you and ask you for some basic need and you are free to help them (or not). If the child is your own, you have a clear obligation to take care of your child’s need. [I imagine a child might come up to me and ask me to help them blow their nose, in which case I would help them find their mother. But if my own child asked, I would (probably) help them]

The unsaved can pray to God, and God might answer their prayer, but God is not in a parent-child relationship with the unsaved person. The Book of Jonah is an example in of a pagan nation with no idea what God requires prayed for mercy and received it. That God provides good gifts to all people is a clear teaching of both the Old and New Testament. Obviously God does hear the prayers of the unregenerate who ask for the forgiveness of sin and accept Jesus as their savior.

Jesus is therefore talking about requests in prayer from God’s children. This is similar to Paul in Romans 8, the Spirit who helps us pray because we do not even know how to pray! Does a believer need to be in obedience to God’s will when they bring requests to God? Does the presence of sin in our life limit our prayers? Are your children always in perfect obedience when they ask you for things?

It is certainly possible for God to answer the prayers of a believer who is in sin. Like a human relationship, sin can cloud and disrupt a relationship. Even though God does not change, the believer may not be in a place to approach God in prayer. This is the reason the Lord’s Prayer included confession of sin (Matt 6:12). Virtually everyone who teaches on prayer includes confession as an important part of prayer. This is true for the Psalms, in the majority of the Psalms the author confesses his sin and the sin of his people before asking God to rescue him from his problems.

Does this mean a believer who is in sin shouldn’t ask anything from God until they have confessed all their sins?  Not necessarily, since it is impossible to confess every sin.

Even in our requests to the good Heavenly Father, we ought to be submissive to God’s will. Why do your kids ask you for things? Sometimes they have real needs and they need help, but occasionally they have an ulterior motive (greed, get their sibling in trouble, etc.) James 4:3 says those who ask and don’t receive are asking from wrong motives.  What might a “wrong motive” be for asking something from God?  Selfishness?  Greed?  Jealousy?

Our prayers are motivated by our desires, but the effective prayers in the Old Testament are always motivated by what is best for God.

As we mature in Christ, we will bring each area of our lives under greater submissiveness to God’s will and our prayer requests will be more in line with God’s will. Just as a child matures and better understands their relationship with their parent, so too the believer matures and better understands God and our relationship with him. Prayer is part of that process.

In order to illustrate the problem with judging others. Jesus uses a humorous, even absurd, exaggeration. It makes no sense to condemn someone’s small error if you have a larger error in your own life.

The word usually translated “speck” (κάρφος) is a bit of straw or word, a small splinter, or even “a tiny foreign object in a wine cup” (BDAG). The word translated “log” (δοκός) is a heavy beam used to construct a roof or to bar a door (BDAG). In Josephus’s Jewish War, this word is used to describe a Roman battering ram (JW 3.124).

The contrast is therefore between a tiny insignificant thing, maybe something that is irritating but not really that noticeable and a massive piece of wood that is impossible to miss. John Nolland says this is a scene of “grossly selective perspective” (Nolland, Matthew, 320). The hypocrite only sees one thing, perhaps an issue they consider to be the most important issue of them all, but it is a mere speck compared to a major sin (likely hypocrisy itself) in their own life.

If we deal with “the log in our own eye” are we permitted to condemn others for their speck? Probably not. Jesus is certainly exaggerating, and has been described as ironic or even sarcastic here (Geulich, Sermon on the Mount, 352-3). There are several important observations to be made here.

First, if one is able to actually see what sin they do have in their lives, then they should be more concerned with dealing with their own sin than nit-picking minutia in another person’s life. There is something essentially hypocritical about pointing out another person’s sins when you are unwilling to deal with the same sin you your own life.

Second, if one is dealing with their own sin, they ought to be more sensitive toward people with similar problems. This is of course not always the case, especially if a person is guilty of a “grossly selective perspective.” Jesus’s disciples need to deal with sin, but knowing the extent of one’s own shortcomings must lead to a sensitive and gentle correction.

Third, this is not “blanket tolerance or moral indifference” (McKnight, Sermon on the Mount, 230). Jesus is not saying “nothing offends God so love everyone and everything they do.” He is saying that in an ideal Christian community, there will be enough love and grace among the brothers and sisters that condemning one another will not even be a possibility.

Fourth, the follower of Jesus needs to think about the impact of our condemnation of sin. If a person has been caught in sin and is publically shamed as a result, that is not permission to pile on our own gossip and rage toward the person. Likely as not, they are going through a personal hell as their life falls apart, the individual brother or sister in Christ does not need to fan the flames (probably through verbal sins of their own).

The result taking one’s own problem is that we will “see clearly” (Τότε διαβλέψεις). “See clearly” it to have one’s eyes open wide and looking intently at something (BDAG), perhaps with a clear understanding of what is being seen. Perhaps Jesus is suggestion the one who has dealt with a particular problem can gently correct a fellow disciple since they have experienced the same forgiveness. In fact, the very fact the Lord’s Prayer includes forgiveness ought to be a warning against jumping to judgment too quickly.

Maybe you have had an experience where someone was picking at some minor problem in your life and you knew the person was a hypocrite. Sadly this often is a parent, a pastor or teacher. It may have been a case of “do as I say, not as I do.” My sense is most people will read Jesus’s exhortation to “remove the log from our own eye” as referring to those encounters with hypocrites. But I do not see Jesus narrowing this down to only “those other people.” He tells his closest disciples they need to focus on their sin rather than looking for specks to pick out of someone else’s eye.

American culture can fairly be described as a culture of condemnation and judging. Despite the pop-culture commitment to not judging others (“haters gonna hate,” “only God can judge me”), the culture we live in judges everything we wear, everything we say, and everything we do.

“Like it or not, you are being judged by how you look, how you dress, and how you carry yourself—and, if you’re lucky, how you do your job. As uncomfortable as it may be, we are under the microscope every day. Our employees, our colleagues, and our customers judge us by how we look, how we dress, our table manners, our grooming, and sometimes even how we do our job.” Ty Kiisel, Forbes OnLine, March 20, 2013.

These may be superficial judgements about fashion choices, but sometimes judgment runs deeper than the surface. Blondes are ditzy, fat guys are jolly, white girls like Pumpkin Spice lattes; tall people play basketball; people with glasses are smart, etc.

In this section of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells his disciples they should NOT judge. For those who hear this teaching out of context, they assume Jesus means we ought not to judge anything or anyone as wrong. Pop-culture turns this verse into the central teaching of Jesus, despite the fact there are plenty of people Jesus judges (Matthew 23, the condemnation of the Pharisees, for example).

As in English, the Greek verb “to judge” has a wide range of meaning. The word can refer to deciding between two options, such as a decision in a legal matter or in an argument between two people. It would be virtually impossible to not judge between two choices in life (I judge apple pie is better than chocolate cake, and opt to eat the pie every time.) Society has to have some system of justice, which implies someone will have to judge between right and wrong legally. Christians have long struggled to work out how to interpret and apply this commandment to “not judge.” “All these examples show how this commandment of the Sermon on the Mount was ‘domesticated’” (Luz, Matthew, 350).

There is nothing quite like this saying in Jewish, although a few parallels are often suggested. m. Abot 1:6 B “And give everybody the benefit of the doubt” and m. Abot 2.4 “And do not judge your fellow until you are in his place.”

Often, “judging others” is taken as condemnation on superficial issues. If I do not like the way a person dresses, I ought to refrain from condemning the person. Think of the church’s attitude toward long hair and bears on men in the 1960s. People with tattoos used to be scandalous, now it is no problem if the pastor has a tattoo. In fact, a tattoo might be a job qualification for doing youth ministry.

 

Rather than prohibiting any judgment of a behavior as good or bad, a follower of Jesus ought not to presume to be in the place of God and pronounce a person as condemned. The saying is less about “I think your clothes are ugly” than looking at a person’s lifestyle and judging them as condemned by God. Jesus’s followers should be more interested in reconciling people to God than condemning them as sinners in the hands of an angry God.

By way of application, “evangelists” who go to college campuses and hold up signs declaring homosexuals as damned to hell are not doing any good. Think of the typical rescue mission in movies like Guys and Dolls: you have to listen to the sermon condemning you for being a drunkard and gambler before you can get some soup and coffee. On the other hand, a ministry like Craig Gross’s XXX church reaches out as non-judgmentally as possible to people struggling with pornography and works with people in the porn industry (at their “Porn & Pancakes” events, for example).

The corollary of this is also true: judging someone by their lifestyle and assuming they are right with God. A person who appears to be a solid Christian may not have a relationship with God at all!

The difficult problem is balancing moral discernment and personal condemnation (McKnight, Sermon on the Mount, 227). It is easy enough to state the Bible condemns a particular sin (adultery, drunkenness, etc.) but quite another not to personally condemn the sinner. Pennington adds the word “unfairly” to his translation: “Do not judge unfairly.” (Pennington, Sermon on the Mount, 256). Since the English word “judge” is almost entirely negative (practically equally to “condemn”), Pennington adds the modifier to get at what Jesus meant.

If we judge, Jesus says the same standard will be used against us. This saying implies the person who presumes to stand in the place of God and judge whether a person is condemned or not does not live up to their own standards. There are plenty of examples of evangelists or politicians who condemn some sexual sin as loudly as possible and are later caught in the very sin then condemned.

The ultimate example of non-judgmental outreach to sinners for the purpose of their reconciliation with God is Jesus, a “friend to the sinner.” Jesus eats with tax collectors and other sinners (Matthew 9:9-13, for example). This is more complex than “love the sinner, hate the sin.” When we model our lives after Jesus we will treat everyone with respect regardless of our view of their lifestyle.

How does this work in the real world? Is it possible (for you) to reach across cultural, social and religious lines and “be the love of Christ” to someone who is radically different? How does a Christian make a moral stand on an issue while also treating a person who disagrees with that moral stand with love and respect?

Jesus contrasts how the Gentiles seek after material needs with his own disciples (6:32). A Jewish writer would contrast Jews and Gentiles in this way. Jesus says the Gentile world frets over their needs (and more, they seek treasure on earth, they serve Mammon (6:24). This is more than materialism, the verb is “eagerly seek” (ἐπιζητέω). The word has the connotation of craving for something, an earnest pursuit of a goal.

In contrast to what the Gentiles seek, the disciple of Jesus is to seek the kingdom of God (6:33). Jesus uses a similar word “seek” (ζητέω) for the pursuit of the Kingdom of God.

Defining the Kingdom is a difficult problem since it can refer to the Old Testament kingdom of God, or God’s general rule of the universe. For a Jewish disciple of Jesus, the “Kingdom of God” would be the coming restoration of a kingdom to Israel, ruled by a messiah who will in many ways be a new David, or a new Joshua in that he rescues Israel from her enemies. But in other ways he is a new Moses or a new Aaron, leading Israel out of the wilderness of her long exile, providing a new covenant which God will enable his people to keep (he will fix their hearts, Jeremiah 33, Ezekiel).

In many ways, the death, burial and resurrection resulted in an inauguration of that Kingdom. In the Ascension Jesus is enthroned in heaven ruling, but there are other ways the kingdom is absent from the world. We do not live in a world in which all people acknowledge the lordship of Jesus (Phil 2:5-11). This is an in-between-time: God has inaugurated his kingdom with Jesus’s death, but will consummate it at some point in the future.

Two important observation follow from this. First, the disciples did not know about this lengthy gap between the inauguration and consummation of the Kingdom. Second, the church is not the kingdom in any real sense and does not fulfill the prophecies of the kingdom from the prophets. We can draw some application from “seek the kingdom of God,” but it is wrong to read this line as commanding the Christian to “establish the kingdom.” That is not even what Jesus says!

In addition to seeking the kingdom of God, the disciple of Jesus is to see God’s righteousness. This could refer to the righteousness of the kingdom of God, “its righteousness.” Most recent translations understand this as “God’s righteousness.”

Righteousness is an action in Second Temple Judaism. For example, in Micah 6:8 God has shown man what he is to do, the first is to “act justly.” This word is translated as either righteous or just, even if these are different categories in English. A righteous person (in the context of Micah, the Old Testament, and Second Temple Period Judaism) did righteousness, they took care of the poor, the widows, the orphans and immigrants.

Christianity tends to think of righteousness as a state of being, we “are righteous” by not sinning or doing acts of spiritual discipline. There is nothing wrong with this, but it is not what Jesus would have meant when he said “seek the righteousness of God.”

There are many examples of how a disciple of Jesus pursues the things of God in a way that is countercultural to the world. That Jesus welcomes tax collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners to eat with him is a clear act of mercy towards those who are on the fringes of Jewish culture. The way we think about social issues can be “seeking God’s righteousness” that flies in the face of the modern, western worldview.

Perhaps the application of “seeking the kingdom” ought to be doing real acts of justice toward those who are in need, so they do not need to worry about what they will eat or drink. How can local churches become involved in local acts of mercy which impact their community?

Jesus warns against worry three times in this section of the Sermon, each time giving an illustration concerning why worry is wrong and a brief command based on that illustration. If the birds are well fed, the God will see to our food (6:26-27). Jesus points to the birds of the air, probably pointing to birds that his listeners could see as he spoke. These birds don’t plan their harvests or work fields, yet they are fed, and fed by God. That God feeds the animals is an OT idea, see here (cf. Job 38:41;  Pss 104:10-15; 147:7-9; Ps. Sol. 5:8-11).

If the lilies of the field are well dressed, then God will see to our clothing (6:28-31). It is possible Jesus could gesture to flowers right where he was speaking. Lilies do not need to work to sew their clothes, yet they are “more beautiful than Solomon in all his splendor.” Even the grass is beautiful, even if it is temporary. God has created plants which will be pulled up and burned, how much more will he care for you?

“What are we to eat” (v. 31) are the words of someone who has nothing. If the disciples find themselves with no food or drink because they are being persecuted on account of Jesus, they can know God will provide for them.

Although there are no clear allusions to the story, God providing for his people is at the bedrock of Old Testament theology. In Exodus 15:22-17:7 God provides both water and food for his people in the wilderness. Manna was “bread from heaven,” food given to the people from the hand of God each day. But they were only to gather enough manna for each day, focusing their attention on God’s daily provision. The Israelites in the wilderness were to look to God for their “daily bread” (Matt 6:11).

There is an eschatological aspect to God’s provision of daily needs. For some (Guelich, Sermon, 370, for example), this is an allusion to the physical bounty of the coming kingdom of God. Certainly this is true, but if Jesus is preparing his disciples for future persecution, the his focus is on the coming tribulation prior to the establishment of the kingdom in (what is now) our future.

At the end of the final teaching section in Matthew, Jesus describes himself as the Son of Man coming with all his holy ones, setting up a throne for judgment and separating the nations like a shepherd separates sheep from goats. He praises the sheep for providing food and clothing for the “least of these brothers of mine,” and condemns the goats because withheld food and clothing for these same brothers.

There is a warning here that the basics of life may be withheld because of human sin. This helps to explain why Christians suffer from privation, pervasive evil in governments prevent relief from reaching people who need it.

As with Matthew 6:25, this is a very difficult for the most of the western, affluent church to fully appreciate since they do not lack for much. I confess that although I think I rely on the Lord, I also have retirement savings and a health care plan. I do not think these things are bad, but is it possible for these sorts of personal savings distract my attention from how the Lord is providing for me daily? What are some other ways the affluence of the western church can distract us from God’s daily provision for our needs?

How is it possible not to worry about tomorrow? Some people are more prone to worry than others, so that reading this passage will make you feel a little guilty for being anxious (or overly spiritual if you are one of those chill people who never seem to worry about things). Like most things in the sermon, Jesus is describing the ideal disciple who finds balance between having the basic necessities of life and one who is driven by the pursuit of wealth.

The problem Jesus addressed in Matthew 6:25-34 was excessive worry caused by misplaced loyalty. In Matthew 6:19-24 Jesus described the ideal disciple as “storing up treasure in heaven.” It is impossible to serve both God and money, and it is dangerous to be stingy with any wealth God has given to you. “Therefore,” Jesus begins in verse 25, “do not worry your physical needs in this life.”

The problem with wealth (treasures on earth) is that the quickly become an end to themselves rather than the means to an end. The danger of accumulating wealth is found in the Old Testament, Jewish Wisdom Literature, and virtually every culture which has stopped to consider the dangers of wealth.

Ecclesiastes 5:11 (ESV) When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes?

1 Baruch 3:18 those who schemed to get silver, and were anxious,  but there is no trace of their works?

“The more property, the more care.” Hillel, m. Aboth 2:7.

“Poor man wanna be rich, Rich man wanna be king, and a king ain’t satisfied, ‘til he rules everything.” Badlands, Bruce Springsteen

“It’s like the more money we come across, the more problems we see.” Mo Money Mo Problems, The Notorious B.I.G.

Jesus is not recommending his disciples not prepare for the future or take the time to prepare for the next day. “For the contemporary person who has grown tired of the constant Christian justification of possessions and who is suspicious about the emphasis on the supreme value of work, the text offers a glimpse of an alternative way of life” (Luz, Matthew 1-7, 348).

But when the basics of life consume the disciple with anxiety, then they are wholly distracted from what they ought to be seeking, the kingdom of God and the righteousness of God. For the people following Jesus in Galilee, it is likely they were living in poverty. They likely did worry about how they would feed their family or how they would pay their taxes.

Jesus has already said his disciples ought to be storing up treasures in heaven. If the disciple of Jesus doing that, then there is no need to be anxious about the basics of life. The verb “be anxious” (μεριμνάω) refers to being unduly concerned over things. The object of the worry is “your life.” This refers to every aspect of life, including the physical aspects Jesus mentions. Most importantly it includes the mental and spiritual processes crippled by worry. Jesus is saying the disciple should not be so anxious over things which God has already provided for.

Both Paul and Peter make similar warnings against worry (Phil 4:6-7 and 1 Peter 5:7). For Paul, worry is the opposite of contentment. Philippians 4:6-7 says the follower of Jesus should not worry about anything, but present those worries to God through prayer, with thanksgiving. Writing from a Roman prison in a situation which might very well end his life, Paul models the balance between worry and contentment.

McKnight points out the anxiety and agitation of Martha in Luke 10:41. She is so concerned about proper hospitality she has forgotten to sit at Jesus’s feet and be taught, as her sister Mary was (Sermon, 218). Some people are like Mary (not worried about anything but Jesus) and other are like Martha, concerned with all the things which need to be done they miss out on what Jesus wants to teach them. To have no care at all about personal needs is as foolish as being consumed with worry.

Jesus makes the shocking statement, at least by contemporary standards, that life is more than food and clothes (6:25) Jesus offers three illustrations of “earthly cares” (food, drink, and clothing). These are the basic necessities of life. For Jesus’s original listeners and the original readers of Matthew, basic daily needs were not guaranteed. The readers Matthew are Jewish Christians who will be soon undergoing persecution and their basic necessities are in jeopardy. Tomorrow they may not have a home, the next day they might not be able to afford food.

In the context of modern western life, these things seem minor since we have all our basic needs met. We are more likely to worry about making a car payment. Bur for the majority world, many do not know where their next meal is coming from, or do not have access to clean water, or may only own a few items of clothing. Have modern western Christians developed “misplaced loyalties” because they have so much wealth? I realize the average college student feels they live in poverty, but they have shelter and food (and often gain that freshman fifteen!) Yet people are anxious about everything! How does this teaching of Jesus work speak to the problem of worry and anxiousness even in the western world?

Yarbrough, Robert W. The Letters to Timothy and Titus. PNTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. xxxvi+604 pp. Hb; $50.  Link to Eerdmans  

This new contribution to the Pillar New Testament Commentary series by Robert Yarbrough offers insightful exegesis of these three important but often overlooked letters. As he observes in his introduction, many readers approach the Pastoral Epistles for their detailed descriptions of church leaders. In fact, these letters do contain “valuable counsel not available elsewhere in the New Testament” (1). But the list of qualifications for elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are only one aspect of these letters.

Yarbrough, Pastoral Epistles, 1-2 Timothy, TitusThe ninety-page introduction to the Letters to Timothy and Titus begins with eight theses on the heritage of the Pastoral Epistles (PE). These eight statements were drawn from Thomas Oden’s Ministry through Word and Sacrament (Crossroad, 1989) and adapted to the content of the PE. Although this section is only the first eleven pages of the commentary, Yarbrough clearly sets his agenda for the commentary: these letters are in

Any commentary on the PE must deal with the problem of authorship for 1-2 Timothy and Titus. As Yarbrough observes, according to the consensus opinion, the author and the audience are fictive. Paul did not write the letters and the situation in Ephesus described in 1 Timothy and on Crete in Titus reflects the late first or early second century (11). He points out that authorship issues overshadow the substance of the Pastoral Epistles (69). Unfortunately, this may be the case for Yarbrough’s commentary since he accepts Pauline authorship and does not think the situation in Ephesus or Crete is fictional.

Yarbrough follows Adolf Schlatter’s 1936 German commentary on the PE. Since this work was not translated into English it has been sadly ignored, but it does foreshadow what Yarbrough calls the “new look” on Paul’s authorship of these letters. This new look started with Luke Timothy Johnson’s acceptance of Pauline authorship in 1996. Yarbrough cites Johnson’s observation “that the expulsion of the Pastorals was the sacrifice required by intellectual self-respect if scholars were to claim critical integrity and still keep the Paul they wanted most—and needed.” (76). If one scans the Scripture index of a typical book on Pauline theology (Wright, Dunn, etc.), there are few if any references to the Pastoral Epistles.

The body of the commentary follows the pattern of other Pillar commentaries. After a short introduction to each pericope and the text of the NIV 2011, Yarbrough moves through the section verse-by-verse, commenting on key vocabulary in order to illuminate the meaning of the text. He intends to follow the discourse flow in order to follow the argument Paul is making and to explain the unusual words Paul uses in these letters. All Greek appears in transliteration with minimal in-text citations to standard biblical studies tools (BDAG, MM, etc.) Detailed footnotes interact with other literature on the passage. The result is a very readable commentary which is focused on the text of the Bible.

One of the most controversial passages in these letters is 1 Timothy 2:9-14, Paul’s instructions concerning women in worship, Yarbrough’s commentary devotes about 25 pages to these verses. By comparison, Tom Schreiner devotes 62 pages to these verses in Women in the Church (Third edition, Crossway, 2016) and the book has about thirty pages of bibliography. Yarbrough does not consider this a “sudden interjection of prudery” (165). Instead, it is an integral part of Paul’s instruction to Timothy on worship and church order.

By way of introduction to this problematic text, Yarbrough devotes a few pages surveying the three main approaches, critical feminist, Evangelical feminist (egalitarian view), and Evangelical traditionalist (complementarian view). The first and second view do not think this passage is limiting the role of women in ministry, although the first view does this by dismissing Paul’s views as misogynist (although they are probably not Paul’s views at all, they reflect the conditions of the much in a much later period). The second view wants to see the Bible as authoritative so Paul’s command that a woman ought not to exercise authority over a woman is referring to some real situation in Ephesus and was not intended as command aimed at all women of all times. The third view also takes the Bible as authoritative and considers Paul’s words as applicable to the present church and would therefore limit a woman’s role in ministry (usually as a pastor who has authority over men). Yarbrough approaches 1 Timothy 2:11-15 with this complementarian view. But Yarbrough is quick to point out he does not intend to prevent the flourishing and ministry of women” (143). He cites with approval N. T. Wright’s title for this section in his translation of 1 Timothy: “Women Must be Allowed to Be Learners” (170).

With respect to the historical situation in Ephesus, there certainly was some particular reason for Paul to prohibit women from teaching. But Yarbrough argues 1 Timothy 2:12 is both distinctive to a particular situation and universal in scope (177). He rejects negative translations of αὐθεντέω (authenteō), such as the KJV “usurp authority,” preferring the ESV’s “exercise authority” (178). The study of this particular word has generated many articles, Yarbrough follows recent research by Al Wolters and Denny Burk which argue the women in Ephesus were trying to gain an advantage over the men by teaching in a “dictatorial fashion” (180).

Conclusion. Like other volumes in the Pillar New Testament Commentary series, Robert Yarbrough has contributed a solid exegetical study of the Pastoral Epistles based on the English Bible which is also faithful to the Greek text. Yarbrough’s acceptance of Pauline authorship and his approach to the controversial 1 Timothy 2:11-15 may cause some scholars to dismiss this excellent commentary.

 

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

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