I’m sorry friends that this post was late coming. We just celebrated our week of birthdays with the kids and I’m still working from a sugar coma! Thank you Tammy for giving me some good motivation 🙂
Let me share with you some things my kids have said after they got caught red-handed doing something they knew they shouldn’t be doing.
“It wasn’t t-h-a-t bad, really!”
“My brother did it too, why am I getting into trouble???
And this one they haven’t said yet, but I’m just waiting for it.
“All my friends are doing it!”
Now, we know what these kinds of things are when they come out of our kid’s mouths.
-Excuses- trying to excuse bad behavior, say it wasn’t really so bad, there was a reason.
-Justifications- trying to justify, that is make right, something that is not right.
I know, I’m picking on the kids, but us adults we have this kind of thing down to a science. For us, the excuses almost fall on a spectrum ranging from: “it’s not so bad and everyone is doing it, to the compromising “I know what I did wasn’t great but did you see what THAT person did?! To probably the least helpful statement, “well you think it is bad, but I don’t and it’s all a matter of opinion anyways, isn’t it?”
But all of these excuses and justifications ultimately fail us because if we are never actually wrong about anything, then we can never actually be right about anything either. If there is no right or wrong in this world, then it is all just a matter of opinion. If everything becomes a matter of opinion with no absolute right or goodness as being the highest goodness that we are trying to attain to, then what matters is how you look and if you are justified in the eyes of the people who hold similar opinions as you do.
This desire to be justified and look “right” in the eye’s of others brings us to Jesus’ discourse of “you have heard it said, but I say,” In Matthew 5:21-37.
If you read the full text in the Bible please remember that this is not an exhaustive list of every possible “what if” scenario, rather Jesus is revealing and condemning an attitude that is more concerned about how they look to other people rather than what God thinks about these things.
The first one 5:21-26 has to deal with sinful, hurtful anger.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
You can almost hear someone say this to justify themselves. “I just yelled at them, I didn’t hit them and I certainly didn’t kill them.” But does that make the yelling any less wrong or any more right?
The next is respecting other people’s bodies in 5:27-28 when it says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart”
I have heard couples say this kind of thing. “I only looked at her, I didn’t touch her,” or “you can look but you can’t touch.” But again does this make the looking any more right or any less wrong just because you are not touching with your body but with your eyes and your mind?
Then promises made in marriage from Matthew 5:31-32. “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.”
The ancient concern here wasn’t so much if the grounds for the divorce were justified or not, what the man was concerned about was whether he gave his ex the proper paperwork at the end of the divorce. This paperwork basically said that you are cut off, I have no responsibility for you now, you can marry whoever you want. What this would do is make divorce and marriage a cheap thing because if the most important thing was that there was a proper piece of paper at the end, you could divorce and marry without much consequence.
Finally, Matthew 5:37 about promises made to everyone else. “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” There was an ancient debate about what promises to keep and to who you should keep those promises. Again, the question was not about the rightness of keeping your promises but how you could be justified in the eyes of your friends in breaking them. I guess that debate isn’t so ancient after all but happens today too.
Throughout the discourse Jesus is making a clear distinction when He says, “you have heard it said” which is the realm of human opinion, excuses and no moral absolutes, “But I say,” which is God speaking, the realm of honesty and absolute truth.
God says absolutely about sinful hurtful anger done in thought, word or deed is sin and comes from our sinful, broken condition. Not respecting another person’s body done in thought, word or deed as well is sin and comes from that sinful, broken condition. When we break our promises, there are good reasons and bad reasons for doing it, and it does happen, but the reality is, is that sin is still there and a part of human brokenness.
God is honest with us, he calls a thing what it is and that is a really good thing because ultimately whatever you call it, sin is still sin and its harmful to you and to the people you love. If you don’t call a sin, sin then you can never actually deal with it, always trying to ignore it, but it is still there and hurting you. But if you call sin what it is then at least you have a chance to do something about it.
Let me give you an illustration of this. Imagine there was a tragic car accident and one of the passengers loses a limb, an or a leg. The medics are travelling in the ambulance and when they arrive they run up to the victim. But when they get there they tell the person who has been horribly disfigured, “oh, its just a scratch, don’t worry about it, shake it off, you’ll be fine.” Now, we all know, that no matter what the medics called it, if that person is not given medical care that wound will kill them.
The same is true about anger, adultery, broken promises or any of the myriad, creative ways we selfishly break God’s commands and desires for our lives. When we are honest about this sin that is in my life, we can do something about it, make amends, confess our sins, always receive God’s forgiveness, and seek His help.
In this world of compromises and dishonesty and ever changing opinions the honesty of God is something that we need desperately. In all of the “you have heard it said,” voices out there telling us lots of different things, the voice of truth, Jesus’ voice, is the only one that is showing us the way home.