More Than Imitation
“You have heard that the ancients were told…” Matthew 5:21
What were they told?
- Don’t murder!
- Don’t commit adultery!
- Don’t lie!
- You can have revenge: ‘an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth’.
- Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
We naturally have an internal sense of morals which echo and affirm this standard. Even in our day and age of relative truth, nearly everyone agrees with these standards… at least they agree when it concerns themselves and being wronged…
- Rival gang shooting and killing is wrong; and fear of getting caught it the crossfire shouldn’t affect whether I can walk around in the evening or not.
- No, it’s not ok for my child to lie to me when I need to know where my car keys are.
- My husband may not have an affair!
- Sure a bit of revenge is just fine if it’s is deserving and I’ve been hurt - in fact, it feels pretty good.
- And, naturally, I hate my enemies...they are my enemies after all.
But Jesus did not agree with this way of thinking.
Jesus teaches something totally different. He teaches something much more difficult than just following the acceptable norm.
Jesus is teaching at the Sermon on the Mount. There are multitudes of people and there are the appointed disciples. To both these groups Jesus stops and takes the time open their eyes to Truth if they will hear Him with a heart of faith.
And what truth does Jesus wants them to see: The ancients were taught crude guidelines to help direct behavior, but God always wanted something deeper than that. God wanted (and still wants) a pure heart of faith.
God doesn’t watch our external actions, He is watching our internal actions, our heart motivation, for the choices that we make and the actions that we do. Because what is in our heart will come out:
“From it (the heart) flows the springs of life.” Proverbs 4:23.
At the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is trying to help us get to the very center of our hearts so that we can be pure from the inside out. If our hearts, our internal motivation, is pure then naturally our external actions will be pure too.
To help us get to our hearts, Jesus has a whole new, a whole different, set of directives, which leads us away from the crude standard that the ancients had:
“The ancients were told...But I say to you…” Matthew 5:22
- “The ancients were told” you shall not commit murder…
- “But I say to you…” do not hate!
- “The ancients were told” you shall not commit adultery...
- “But I say to you…” do not lust!
- “The ancients were told “ do not lie...
- “But I say to you…” speak truth!
- “The ancients were told” you can have revenge...
- “But I say to you…” turn the other cheek!
- “The ancients were told” love your neighbor and hate your enemy…
- “But I say to you…” love your enemy!
Jesus is directing us away from the imitation of good and into the very essence of goodness. As God is good (Ps 136:1), He is directing us into the very character of God.
The only way to leave behind this pretend imitation of good and to move into God’s character of goodness, is to do so by faith. As my own relationship with Christ grew deeper and my faith grew bigger and stronger, God began to teach me this exact same lesson.
For me this transition from the imitation of good into reflecting the character of God didn’t look like murder, hate, or lust… it was something much less flashy… I went from looking like I loved people to really loving people.
I had heard (“the ancients were told”) that I was supposed to love others and serve them. In order to accomplish this I was told…
- Listen politely to others and don’t talk about yourself.
- If there is conflict do what someone else wants to do.
- You must pray for others; a formula/list is the most efficient way.
- Help other people when they ask for help; give them what they want.
These teachers, pastors, and extraneous people, most likely meant well...trying to guide my external behavior with crude, rudimentary guidelines and laws.
But I felt trapped and fenced in by all the dos and don’ts. I am a first born girl who is generally happy to do what is asked of me. So, I preformed. I completed the list laid out for me.
While my internal motivation should have been to love people, trufully, it was to perform...to people please...to accomplish a list.
I was frustrated and ashamed because deep down I knew I was on the wrong path, but I didn’t know how to get onto the right one. I could feel that I was conforming to all the commands “that the ancients were told” and also that something was missing.
Part of what caught my attention was experience. I learned that when I robotically did what “the ancients were told” that it had its own set of consequences:
- When I don’t talk about myself at all, people don’t get to know me. It’s hard to be friends with people if you don’t let them get to know you.
- It became apparent that conflict isn’t always resolved by giving in to what others want.
- I learned that a formula for prayer isn’t the way that God made me to pray.
- Also, that helping people when they need help is well and good but discernment is required to truly find what people’s needs are and how to help them.
So I was stuck. I knew the crude guidelines meant to guide me into goodness were not working for others or for myself.
Then, just as Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the mount, God taught me the difference between an imitation of a good thing and the essence of God’s character.
I was pretending, acting, like I loved people by following a set of stage commands, when God began to open my eyes to see what it meant to really love people, by faith, in a way that reflected God’s character.
For me that changed the commands I had been given to look more like this:
“The ancients were told...But I say to you…” Matthew 5:22
- I was told…...Listen politely to others and don’t talk about yourself.
- “But I say to you” listen to others and be willing to be vulnerable and make friends.
- I was told…….If there is conflict do what someone else wants to do.
- “But I say to you” set healthy boundaries, respecting others and yourself.
- I was told…..You must pray for others; a formula/list is the most efficient way.
- “But I say to you” pray without ceasing. Walk and talk to God all day, about everything.
- I was told…...Help other people when they ask for help; give them what they want.
- “But I say to you” love people for their good (agape love) and you will give them what they need.
By my walking with God in a daily faith, God spoke into my life and freed me from the chains of external behavior that was mandated by commands. I had struggled with these commands so long and at last I was finally freed by understanding the heart of them. It was pure joy.
Now, I don’t have to try, to pretend, to act, or to imitate like I love people because God has given me a heart, and the internal motivation, to do that very thing. Galatians 3:23-25 says it like this (MSG):
“Until the time when we were mature enough to respond freely in faith to the living God, we were carefully surrounded and protected by the Mosaic law. The law was like those Greek tutors, with which you are familiar, who escort children to school and protect them from danger or distraction, making sure the children will really get to the place they set out for. But now you have arrived at your destination: By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God.”
So I no longer listen to what “the ancients were told.”
They and I were both given guidelines to help us towards goodness. But that goodness is only an imitation of what is good, if it is not followed with a faith and love for the Lord. Those commands can only reach the external actions and never the heart’s resting place for internal motivation.
Now, I listen to the voice of my Shepherd, whom I follow in faith. I listen to His voice when he tells me “But I say to you…”
Hannah Michael Wolfkill Snyder has always loved all of her names (yes, each one is on her passport!). However, the name she loves the most is Jesus. Jesus taught her how to play in the throne room of Heaven and sit in the lap of God the Father. This is her identity, where her heart loves to abide (even if her hands and feet are busy on earth running a household or meeting up with people). Because of her joy in the Father, her heart’s desire is to show women their God given identity in the kingdom of Heaven. You can find her on Instagram.