Praying like Luther


In a sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) I have been using an idea derived from Martin Luther’s letter to his barber on how to pray.  This is available as an article fro Inter Varsity Press in a booklet called “Martin Luther’s Quiet Time.”

Luther’s four fold strand of prayer in response to scripture is put into the acronym S*T*A*R  

The following extract from a sermon explains….

I have also shared and modeled a way of praying through the Lord’s Prayer. This comes from Martin Luther’s teaching on prayer.   He said that we can take a part of scripture, such as the 10 Commandments or the Lord’s Prayer and turn it into a pray by these easy steps.  First to State the teaching, “Lord you have taught us that we can come to your as our Father.”  Then we can thank him, “Lord we thank you for the privilege of prayer that we can come to you and you will welcome us and delight in us as a parent delights in a child.”  Then we can Admit our wrongs, “Lord we act as orphans in the world. We act as if we are on our own and do not look to you for guidance or for help in times of trouble.”  Then we can Request. “Lord, please let our lives be a reflection of your love and personal care for us.”

 This STAR outline can help us in our prayer. We can use it whenever we respond to Scripture.  I have modeled it in each sermon of this series so far, and will do it again today. 

We will:

  • State the teaching
  • Thank God for it.
  • Admit our failings
  • Request God to act on it.

How the Golden Rule fits in the Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 7:12

Gold barsThe Golden Rule is not called that in the text of Matthew.  It is just there in the text.  Many people seem to think that this is the central truth of the Christian message.  No, that does not seem to be so to me.  I have wondered for some time how it fits.

This time in preaching Matthew, I have tried to pay attention to t he literary structure.  In general Matthew uses two devices – first the life of Christ with a sort of climb to the confession by Peter of Jesus identity, then a turn to the Cross.  This is an outline shared by Mark and to a degree Luke.  Second, Matthew has collected discourses (teaching) and narratives (actions) into thematic clusters.

Matthew 5-9 can be see as a unit with the emphasis on the Authority of Jesus – the Sermon on the Mount, chapters 5-7 focus on Jesus authority as a teacher.  Chapters 8 and 9 demonstrate Jesus authority through miracles.

Now here is how the Golden Rule fits in the Sermon

  • Beatitudes – 8 statements of conditions of blessing – 5:1-12
  • Mission for Disciples – Salt and Light – 5:13-16
  • Ethics 5:17-7:12
    • Statement of Law and Prophets – 5:17
    • Jesus’ Ethical teaching on
      • The Law – 5:18-48 – “you have heard, but I say”
      • Spiritual Life – 6:1-18 – giving, prayer and fasting
      • Possessions and Worry – 6:19-34
      • Reciprocal Judgment  – 7:1-11
    • Golden Rule – “Law and Prophets” 7:12
  • Call to Decision – 7:13-17 – 4 examples of 2 paths (4×2=8)
  • Crowd comments on the Authority of Jesus 7:28-29

I have underlined verse 5:17 which begins the section on Ethics and 7:12 which concludes that section.  Both these verses have the phrase “law and prophets”.  First, Jesus speaks of fulfilling the law and the prophets, and at the end he says that the “golden rule” is the law and the prophets.

So then we can see that the Golden Rule serves as a sort of summary of Jesus’ ethical teaching from 5:17 to 7:12.

The Beatitudes as I noted are 8 statements of blessing.  The initial beatitude “blessed are the poor in spirit” corresponds to the confession of sin and admission of need that is the beginning point of being a follower of Jesus.  At the end there is a four fold call to decide (Two Gates, Two Fruit, Two Claims and Two Houses).  Is it a coincidence that the whole sermon starts with 8  beatitudes and ends with 8 choices (four sets of two)?

This sermon is a very carefully crafted discourse – both from the mouth of Jesus and as Matthew records it – I believe he has edited this message, because it is not that long from start to finish.  It is about 2,400 words in the NIV – which works out to a 30 minute sermon at the pace I preach.  Some parts are shaped as an outline and useful for memorization (e.g. the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer).  So it is reasonable to think that this is a condensation of Jesus message, and one that he may have repeated in part or in full as he went from place to place (4:23).

The Golden Rule does not stand alone, nor can it merely be filled by one’s own ideas of its meaning. It is a conclusion to the central section of Jesus sermon.  In short, it serves to give one way to summarize the ethics of a Christian – it corresponds to the 2nd Greatest Command – “Love your neighbor as yourself”. (Matthew 22:34-37, where again Jesus spoke of “the law and the prophets.)


Reciprocity and Judgment – Matthew 7:1-6


I want to use a word that may not be in your everyday vocabulary.    This word is “Reciprocity.”  The definition of Reciprocity is “an exchange or relationship between two or more people.”  The important part is “relationship”.

If I stood up, pointed the finger at one of you and said, “You are a hypocrite”, there is no reciprocity.”

If I stand up and say, “I am a hypocrite, and if you examine your hearts by the word of God, you may find that you are hypocrites also.”  That is reciprocal – because you and I are in a relationship.  Together we admit our need for Grace.

Notice that Jesus says in v. 3, “When you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye…”  This illustration is about people who are in a relationship.  We know that the New Testament compares the Christian Church to a family.  In Jesus we are brothers and sisters.  So one application of this illustration is how we can deal with each other’s flaws in the family of believers.  This is a reciprocal relationship.

Notice also that Jesus says in verse 5, “…first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

This means that there is room for judgment in the community of believers.  If we see a fault in others, out first response should not be to condemn.  Nor should it be to act like you are better.

This means that there can be an exchange.  If and when I have had my sins addressed by the Lord, I might be in a position to help another person with those.  This is not me inserting myself in their lives. It is rather an offer to help as a fellow sinner and a fellow recipient of Grace.

We have to ask what this verse is here to say to us.  I think it is related to this question of Judgment.  And I believe it is telling us that we have to discern who we are speaking to.

If the other person is a brother or sister, then the teaching about specks and planks apply.  There is a place for loving confrontation.

What if the person is not in a mutual relationship?

v.6 Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

Jesus is not speaking here about a house pet.  He is speaking about dogs from the ancient near east.  We could probably translate the word as “Junk yard dog.”

Would you give your Bible, or the American flag, or your family photo album to a Junk Yard Dog?  No, because he would not care of the value you place on the thing.  He would chew it up or bury it or who knows what.

Would you put your wedding ring, or your grandmothers pearl necklace, or your college diploma in a pig pen?  No, because you care too much for those things.  They are valuable and the pig has no sense of their value.

This verse is about with what is sacred and of valuable with the kinds of people who show no regard for what is sacred.

Where we share a relationship with God, we can also share in mutual confrontation and correction, in the name of Jesus Christ.  Where there is no relationship with God, we cannot share in mutual confrontation and correction.

Reciprocity – Matthew 7:1-12



The thing I notice is the reciprocity of these verses.




  • Do not Judge or you will be judged
    • with the judgments you use
    • with the measures you use
  • Do not remove the speck in your neighbors eye
    • without first dealing with your own
  • Do not give treasure to beasts
    • Or they will turn on you
  • Ask, Seek and Knock and you will receive, find and enter
    • if we the unjust love our children
    • how much more will God love us
  • Do to others what you would have them do to you
    • this applies to everything
    • this fulfills the law and the prophets (see 5:17)

Judging in the sense of condemning is prohibited (maybe because that implies we are on safe ground)

But judging ourselves first, allows us to help others (we are on the same ground)

Some who are in error are correctable (speck/log in eye).

Some who are in error are not (dogs/pigs).

When we love, we imperfectly show what God can do better than we can.

The Golden Rule is reciprocal – do what you want done to you.

So the thing you can’t do is hear this and hope that others get their act together. (the ones you judge, the ones with specks, the dogs and the pigs and the parents with screaming kids in the grocery store)

Key Words – Jesus and Scripture in Matthew 5


17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

21 You have heard that it was said …. But I say to you {repeated in 6 examples}

48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

I was intrigues by six words in Jesus teaching on the Law.  First “Law” here refers to the whole Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), not just to regulations such as the Ten Commandments.  Jesus relationship to the scripture can be characterized by these highlighted words

Fulfill – to bring to completion in a variety of senses. Not just to fulfill predictions (such as being born in Bethlehem) but also to complete all aspects of the scripture.  For example, his death fulfills the system of sacrifices – see the book of Hebrews in the New Testament.

Accomplish – this is to say, to do all of it.  No part (jot or tittle; iota or dot) will be left incomplete.

Do and Teach – Those who leave out any part of the commands of God diminish themselves – they become “least in the kingdom of  heaven.”  Those who do and who teach all of the word, will be great.  This is quite a statement for pastors and teachers to consider if they feel a challenge between the text and the desire of the audience.

Exceed – the scribes and Pharisees were the A students who took the advanced classes.  To exceed them in law keeping is not really possible.  It seems that we need to exceed by 1. seeing that life in God is in relationship first of all to our Heavenly Father {repeated many times in this sermon} and not merely to a rule book.  And by 2. receiving a gift of righteousness from Christ.  To those who say this is importing Paul into Jesus’ teaching, I point to this verse:

“blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”  5:6.

Notice that you do not fill yourself with righteousness, but that those who hunger will BE FILLED {passive voice}. So who is doing the filling?  The correct answer in the Sermon on the Mount is usually “your Father in Heaven.”

Perfect – in v. 48 Jesus sets a standard of perfection.  Yet he speaks of being “poor in spirit”, “meek” and to “hunger and thirst…”.  This passage is instruction for disciples (5:1),. who presumably have already heard his message: “Repent and believe…” {4:17}

These are the words that frame Jesus restating, clarifying and expanding the meaning of the “Law and the prophets” in the six examples found in this chapter.



Is Faster Better? On preaching Matthew



I am preaching in Matthew, more or less a chapter at a time.  Now I have come to Matthew 5 – and as far as I am concerned, I could spend the rest of the year on the Sermon on the Mount.  However, to study Matthew as a whole with any kind of sense of progress, I am taking the Sermon a chapter at a time – really taking a nice tasty bite out of each chapter.

Now here is your part.  Would you prefer your preacher to show down in passages that are as rich and dense as the Sermon on the Mount, or are you ok with keeping the pace going.  The side information is that I also follow the sermon text in the Adult class on Sundays.

What is your opinion? Is faster better? or do you like slow?


Crouton — 22



October 22, 2013



“Do not repay anyone evil for evil.”  Romans 12:17

Note that “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” was not for individual revenge, but for justice to be proportional.  Even so Jesus refined our understanding on repayment and revenge.

 Matthew 5:38-48   “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’   But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.   And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.   If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.   Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’   But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,   that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.   If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?   And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?   Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.



A Money Question

round tableI was at a local business group lunch and sat at a table with two men who run a dance club and another who works with a service agency.  When I said what I do, it led to a few interesting questions about Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and money at the end of the world.  The question was, “Doesn’t the Bible say that money will someday be worthless?”

So I looked up what it says in the book of Revelation about what happens to money at the end of the world.  There are two relevant passages

Revelation 13:11-17 11 Then I saw a second beast, coming out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb, but it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercised all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. 13 And it performed great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to the earth in full view of the people. 14 Because of the signs it was given power to perform on behalf of the first beast, it deceived the inhabitants of the earth. It ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. 16 It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, 17 so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. (NIV)

This passage speaks of a time where a political and religious combination of power will result and all use of money will be limited to those who receive “the mark of the beast.”  This has led to lots of speculation about credit cards, tattoos and implanted electronic devices.  Conspiracy theory stuff that is just slightly scary considering what technology is capable of – just watch a police show and see how they can track you by your cell phone, credit, debit card and car gps device.

Revelation 18:11-17 – 

11 “The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore— 12 cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; 13 cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and human beings sold as slaves.

14 “They will say, ‘The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your luxury and splendor have vanished, never to be recovered.’ 15 The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand far off, terrified at her torment. They will weep and mourn 16 and cry out:

“‘Woe! Woe to you, great city,
    dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet,
    and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls!
17 In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!’  (NIV)

This passage is about Babylon.  This is a Biblical symbol of rampant materialism and a twisted morality that places money and pleasure over truth.  Just before the end of all things, this system will fall.  The passage is the lament of all those who were rich and successful in that system.

So watch out for the “mark of the beast” (Rev 13) and the “whore of Babylon” (Rev 18).  A less apocalyptic piece of wisdom is from the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)

Matthew 6:17-19 – 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  (NIV)

Haggai, the Temple and You

Haggai’s first message to the people was that God was frustrating their lives.  Why? because they were delaying the building of the temple.  The Returnees had come back nearly 20 years before, had stated and stopped because of opposition. In the mean time they had taken care of their own houses.  So the prophet said that God was making it so they were frustrated at every turn.  In the words of Haggai 1:6, they earned wages only to put them in a purse with a hole in it.

The OT covenantal background is found in such passages as Leviticus 26:19-20 and Dt 28:22-24.  The people would be materially blessed or cursed based on their faithfulness.

So that is clear enough.

However, how do we read this from the New Testament point of view?  Should preachers use this to motivate building projects and giving campaigns?  The Health and Wealth preachers speaking of giving to God to get greater wealth back. ( As of the Lord is a sort of E-Trade agent.)

The difference is that the Temple in the NT is sometimes the People of God – I Peter 2:4ff.  And at other times we see that Christ is the fulfillment of the Temple and all that was related to it (book of Hebrews).

So a Christian interpretation of Haggai 1 has to go through those changes.  The temple was a place to meet with God, where the High Priest prayed for the people and offered sacrifices for sin and for fellowship.  It was where the glory fo God resided.    All of those are fulfilled in Christ who is the means by which we come to God, he is the High Priest, he is the Sacrifice, he is the Glory of God revealed.

So how does Haggai 1 preach today?  It seems to me that it is summarized very well by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount – “Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these [material] things will be given to you as well.”

Wisdom and Blessing – Mt 5:1-11

The Beatitudes

This week i am attending a workshop for pastors on preaching the Wisdom Literature.  My texts to prepare are Matthew 5:1-11 and Psalm 1.  These share the concept of a Blessing. 

Matthew 5:1-12 –  ESV
    Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
    [2] And 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.

 Some see a progression of the individual in the “Beatitudes” of Matthew 5.  Each blessing is seen as a step in the path.  The interpretation has a long history, but it seems weak to me for three reasons.  First of all, there is an “inclusio” the 1st and 8th beatitudes share the same goal “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  So a circle or switch back is happening here.  Second, is the goal of the disciple to be persecuted?  Third, the words are plurals (those who mourn, etc), so the progress of the individual soul appears to be an import.

I have experimented with a chiastic structure.  Verse 1-2 and 11-12 are Intro and Exit (teacher/disciple; prophet as example) then the beatitudes break out in this pattern.  B = Beatitude

A A’  v. 1,2, 11-12      Intro/exit – Teacher/way

B B’   v. 3,10               Poor/Persecute

C C’  v. 4,9                  Mourn/Peacemaker

D D’  v. 5, 8                Meek/Pure

E E’   v. 6,7                 Righteousness/Mercy 

The E/E’ verses at the center might then be the emphasis – and that gives the follower of Jesus the goal to seek Righteousness (or Justice) and to give Mercy.  All of which is an echo of

Micah 6:8
    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(mercy),
        and to walk humbly with your God?

   I will let you know how this develops.