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Communicating You (Part Two)

October 12, 2009

Matthew’s gospel is replete with signs pointing to one of its purposes: explaining the Kingdom of God.  Stanley Toussaint suggests that this purpose is closely tied to Matthew’s primary goal of proving the Messiahship of Jesus, but is unavoidably distinct.

In displaying Jesus as the Messiah or Anointed One, Matthew reveals the purpose of Christ’s earthly ministry as being the inauguration of a new way of life.  Thus, Jesus set in motion what we are called to join in today.  Within this explanation Matthew delivers quotations, sermons, stories, and proofs that illustrate Christ’s supremacy and the Kingdom’s reality.  Perhaps more notable than any other, is Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount.

Enveloped in this oration is Christ’s introduction of the revolutionary paradigm he calls the Kingdom of Heaven.  Matthew records the sermon within the span of three chapters. Specifically relevant for the purposes of this work is Matthew 6:1-24.  Here Jesus uses three common Jewish worship practices to illustrate a singular point.  Almsgiving, prayer, and fasting are manifestations and exercises of righteousness that can be rendered fruitless through improper practice.  Jesus revealed the true character of the first-century Pharisees who lived to practice their worship in the sight of others. Multiple times Jesus labels them as hypocrites who “have received their reward in full,”  meaning that illegitimate commendation from people, eliminates eternal praise from God.  As the Pharisees fabricated a righteous image through giving, praying, and fasting, Jesus disparaged their behavior because true righteousness is found in the secret consistency of holiness.

Two fundamental errors emerge in this pharisaical approach to righteousness.  First, the Pharisees promoted an image that was inaccurate.  In the case of giving they misunderstood the ultimate reason for financial offering.  We can deduce from the whole of Scripture that giving is not a practice of increasing the assets of the Church or God, rather, it is a discipline best described by Paul in his second letter to the Corinthian church when he wrote: each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:6).  Paul is suggesting that righteousness resides in the heart of the giver, not the amount of the gift.  In the same way, the Pharisees’ misunderstanding of prayer and fasting focused on the amount of words and the obviousness of stress, not the quality of the heart.

Secondly, these hypocrites were attempting to broadcast their supposed image, therein satisfying the flesh.  In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer examines Matthew 6:16-18 and responds that “when the flesh is satisfied it is hard to pray with cheerfulness or to devote oneself to a life of service which calls for much self-renunciation.”

Through personal glorification and playing to the gallery, the Pharisees directed rays of glory unto themselves.  Once this beam of popular approval shone on their faces, the true radiance of eternal reward was stolen from possibility.  Lifestyles that perpetually attempted to reveal personal piety, ultimately uncovered an inability for self-renunciation and Christ-veneration, consequently becoming the hallmark for which Pharisees are remembered.  Association with superficial righteousness, as apposed to union with the Righteous One, became the aim of these religious leaders and they received their earthly compensation in full.

Regarding these false image creating hypocrites, theological anthropology remains in steady decline.  If the crux of theological anthropology is found in the creation-initiated Imago Dei, then the primary responsibility of Christians is to enhance and grow in that image (Phil 3).  Augmentation of the image of God, which has been granted to humanity since Adam (Gen 2), requires a proper understanding of that image.

Colossians 1:15-20 clearly records and shines brightly as a description of the resplendent image of Christ, which as Paul says in v.15, is one in same with that of God.  This subterraneous theme of Trinitarian doctrine serves us well as we seek a proper understanding of the image of God and thus propels us toward a responsible awareness of Christ’s image which we bear.  By realizing and promoting this image, Paul continues, we will be presented holy and blameless and above reproach before Christ.  Knowledge of God is not static but dynamic.  Jesus exhibits this reality in Matthew 6 (as well as throughout his earthly ministry) and Paul describes it in Colossians 1–understanding God leads to understanding ourselves.

Therefore, in order to revive the image of God within us, believers must know God.  Søren Kierkegaard believed that “the formula that describes the state of the self when despair is completely rooted out is this: in relating itself to itself and in willing to be itself, the self rests transparently in the power that established it.”

The creative power that has established humanity is God.  Thus, genuine rest in God leads to a personhood that is itself genuine.  As genuine self is establish, then and only then can real personality occur because, personality is intrinsically rooted in the image that God first gave all humanity. Sadly, much of what we practice, on the web or otherwise, is void of any evidence that we poses a proper comprehension of God.

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