The Following thought for the day was written by Brother Richard Morgan and provides insight and encouragement for those seeking to serve the God of Israel.
As you’re reading through the Sermon on the Mount, you may notice a little theme that crops up in each of the three chapters in Matthew 5, 6, and 7, based on the repetition of the word “first.” Each occurrence reminds us of our priorities, often in ways against how we naturally think about situations.
Matthew 5:23-24 says, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
Here’s an example of someone in the middle of doing their religious duty. We Christadelphians tend to emphasize the importance of things like sound doctrine and following a godly religion for good reasons. However, there’s something more important than reading the Bible, going to meeting, and getting involved in ecclesial activities; our relationships with one another. If we aren’t reconciled to our brothers and sisters, does our religious activity even count for anything? The oneness, peace, and reconciliation associated with our relationships as brothers and sisters are right at the core of the gospel message. Jesus died to bring us into a relationship with God. Really, there’s nothing more important than the sanctity of our relationships as brothers and sisters in Christ – it’s a reflection of the purpose of God, which all our religious activity is meant to support, not contradict.
I don’t think we emphasize treating each other right and instead concentrate first on getting our religion right. A comment by the author of a book I have been reading caught my eye a couple of days ago – “When you are around Christians long enough, it is easy to become disillusioned. Rarely do you see true Christ-like love. Instead in the church there are often conflicts. Backbiting. Offended sensibilities. Grudges.” (Steve Foster, Heel Catcher: The Story of Jacob Revisited, for those who are anxious, tired, and struggling to make life work).
That’s a sad but all too common observation in religious circles. Being at one with each other gets overridden by the thought that if you’re part of the religion, then that’s good enough. Jesus said it’s not good enough; he told us we need to make sure, above anything else, that we have love for one another.
The second “first” is in Matthew 6:33 – “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” The context is about how we always tend to be anxious about things like food and clothing—or riding out pandemics. I’ve been dealing with anxiety in my own life for the past several months (as you might be able to tell from the book I am reading, quoted above!), and I keep needing to come back to this verse. We create so much angst for ourselves when we worry, and I wonder if it just betrays a lack of faith that God knows what he’s doing in our lives, will always take care of us, and there is no need for us to be anxious at all. Yes, that’s easier said than done, but Jesus’ statement is still true – get your priorities straight by seeking the Kingdom first and doing God’s will, and he will take care of the rest.
Just like our tendency to want to get our religion right ahead of relationships, we aren’t naturally good at placing the Kingdom at the top of our priority list. I am reminded of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs where lower-level needs – like the one Jesus mentioned – come first in our lives. Something like the Kingdom, a grandiose hope, would have been placed by Maslow right at the top of the pyramid. You’ve got to get your life sorted out first, and then you can think about something like a kingdom.
But Jesus said no – put the Kingdom first, ahead of everything else. It should be evident that the God who created the Universe can take care of us. But we struggle with it because he is invisible, and the Kingdom isn’t here yet, and it is far from our everyday experience. Things like food and shelter, and the stuff of our daily existence, are tangible, so we naturally migrate to seeking those things first, and the Kingdom can be an afterthought.
With both examples of getting our priorities right, Jesus is trying to change our thinking, which is true of all the things he says in the Sermon on the Mount. How we naturally think is the opposite to how Jesus wants us to prioritize things, and it’s the same with the third “first” in chapter 7 verses 4-5 – “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Judging others is one of the easiest things to do. We do it without thinking. When we see what people wear, say, and do, we naturally form a judgment in our minds, all too often a negative one. It is much harder to judge ourselves because we become blind to our own inadequacies. What we do seems right to us so much of the time, and we give ourselves passes, justify our actions and divert attention away from our failings by focusing on the weaknesses of others.
Training our minds first to judge ourselves will enable us to obey the spirit of what Jesus said to the men who brought the woman caught in adultery – “he who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.” When I was a young man first baptized, I remember judging another brother in my ecclesia who didn’t live up to my standards. He didn’t dress “right,” among other things. I thought I was a good Christadelphian because I wore a suit and tie to meeting. It was only later that I learned that when I went home from meeting and played video games, he would visit old folk who couldn’t make it to meeting and do the readings and break bread with them.
Things like these stop you in your tracks and help you realize how foolish we are to judge others and how hypocritical we are to fail to notice the giant logs in our own eyes.
Jesus told us these three “firsts” because we need to hear them. Sadly, all too often, our ecclesias can be places where legalistic religion overrides relationships, materialism trumps trusting in God, and judging others replaces introspection.
What does God want from us? Micah asked that question to those who thought their religion was what it was all about. The famous response was – “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Perhaps we can see a parallel here with the three “firsts” of the Sermon on the Mount. Instead of judging others, let us do justly. Let us love kindness instead of neglecting our relationships by concentrating on legalistic religion. And instead of worrying about the things of this life, let us walk humbly with our God who has promised he will take care of us.