True Spiritual Values
F. Cundick, Luton
The terms of the Lord’s commission to His disciples in the Gospel by Matthew are: “All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you all the days, even unto the consummation of the age”, 28. 18-20 R.V. marg. The things “commanded” are chronicled by the ex-customs officer in an orderly fashion in the five discourses of the Gospel. They are
- The Manifesto Discourse, chs. 5-7.
- The Evangelistic Discourse, ch. 10.
- The Parabolic Discourse, ch. 13.
- The Assembly Relationship Discourse, ch. 18.
- The Climax Discourse, chs. 24-25.
All these discourses are brimful with the precious teaching of the Master, their themes being illuminated by the narratives that precede them.
Throughout the Manifesto Discourse, chs. 5-7, there are interesting themes on the Commonwealth of Heaven. One in particular is the necessity to develop a sense of true spiritual values as indicated by the Lord’s use of the word “first”.
The “First” of Reconciliation
“Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there re-memberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift”, 5. 23, 24. Because of a sense of failure in worship, the question is often asked: “How does the consciousness of the divine Presence, and the deep joy of adoration come to the heart?” Too often we intrude with unholy feet around the altar, ignoring the requirements for the acceptance of our offerings. Worship is not to be empty ceremony. Therefore, because of the danger of it becoming so through the breach of loving relations with a brother, our Lord bade the subjects of His kingdom to leave a ceremonious procedure until reconciliation is effected. If we are prepared for what is involved in the command, the right condition for worship will lead to its realised joy.
First, there is sensitivity of conscience, “there rememberest”. Is the still small voice heard? Indifference towards the claims of righteousness is spiritually disastrous. Secondly, there must be humility, “leave there thy gift before the altar”. This virtually involved a breach of ceremony, for the offerer is viewed as actually in the act of presentation at the barrier before the altar (lit. “art offering”, R.V.). The soul is humbled by the acceptance of the loss of prestige involved in such an act. Thirdly, there is courage in action, “go thy way”. Moral courage is demonstrated by going back over the path trodden, although it involves misunderstanding. The pathway is taken for the performance of what is right, and this is the issue of courageous conviction. Fourthly, there is unblameableness, “first be reconciled to thy brother”. Steps taken to restore relationships leave one undeserving of censure, though perhaps not faultless. This attitude usually makes reconciliation as easy as breathing. Lastly, there is sacrifice, “then come and offer thy gift”. Compliance to these demands will make our approach acceptable in the courts of God’s presence. It is a solemn fact that persistence in a course and condition contrary to this, makes the genuineness of professed relationship to the family of faith questionable.
The “First” of Life’s Quest
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you”, 6. 33. The God of the Universe, the Controller of all things, is revealed to be the God of the individual in this part of the discourse. Since the details of every individual’s life are under God’s watchful eye, the believer is expected to acquiesce to His perfect control. The aim of life of those possessing this conception of God through the authoritative teaching of Christ should be His kingdom and righteousness. The nations, through greed and fear of catastrophe, seek material things, 6. 32. With fretting anxiety and mistrust of God, life is entirely focussed upon the business of accumulating food, drink and clothing. But possessing the knowledge that God’s dominion is the best, the believer should yearn for manifestations of His power, and experimental knowledge of His operations in the “all things” of life. The fowls of the air and the lilies of the field are illustrations of our Father’s unceasing care. The method of our search is wrapped up in this word “first”. The kingdom must be the principal passion in our hearts. Preference for spiritual things, intensity of purpose, and the giving of time, are all included in this. The present reward of the search is summarised in the words, “all these things shall be added unto you”. The life of a saint is spoiled if all his time is absorbed in the pursuit of material things. On the other hand, life is blessed if spiritual affairs are given priority. This principle is illustrated in the life of Matthew himself; in response to the call of Christ, he turned his back upon a lucrative post in an earthly kingdom, but was rewarded by being made an apostle of the Lord and a chronicler of the kingdom that is eternal.
The “First” of Self-judgment
“Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye”, 7. 5. There is much misunderstanding on the matter of judging dealt with here. It is certainly not rivalry to civil powers administering public justice; reference has been made to these with approval elsewhere in the discourse, 5. 25, 26. Neither is it sanction to avoid judging moral evil. The deep spirituality of the ministry of Christ in this connection is given previously, “I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart”, 5. 28. This searching word is needed in these “modem” times more than ever before.
Moreover, there cannot be any implication in these words forbidding us to assess the quality of any doctrine. The warning, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves”, 7. 15, was given for this very purpose. Does it mean that we are not to judge professions of faith? Statements such as “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you”, 7. 6, dismiss that suggestion also. Subsequent history in the New Testament does not allow us to think that every profession of faith was regarded as bona fide by the early servants of Christ.
What, then, is the meaning? Following the ministry on the life of faith, ch. 6, the words seem to point to the tendency in our hearts to criticize harshly the incomplete and inaccurate movements of others in that pathway. Too often the censure of others is an attempt to camouflage our own shortcomings; One hour of true self-judgment before the Lord will humble us and deliver us from the sin of hypocrisy and from carping destructive criticism.