Month 11:8, Week 1:7 (Shibi'i/Sukkot), Year:Day 5941:303 AM|
Gregorian Calendar: Wednesday 24 January 2018
Origins and Obligations
Shabbat shalom kol beit Yisra'el and Mishpachah and good morning chaverim.
How My Sermons Come into Existence
One of the things I make it a practice to do now, whenever possible, is to let my congregation and readers know how sermons and articles come about. I think you know I don't pull topics out of a hat or talk about things that I happen to have been currently studying or because they're a doctrinal hobbyhorse that I find it hard not to talk about. I want people to see and know how Yahweh leads me in the selection of themes and how the Ruach (Spirit) unfolds them. In other words, my purpose is not simply to teach and edify but to reveal Elohim (God) at work whenever and wherever possible, and for you to be encouraged in that. It's important to know that we can be led by a community. Accordingly I hope what I want to talk about today will be especially interesting because the topic is itself about a quality of lived experience.
How Today's Sermon Came to Be
I had prepared lst week's sermon days in advance - or most of it - because I was having a really rough time healthwise and didn't want to leave my assembly in the lurch on the sabbath. Being able to do that is, I have to say, a very luxury. Today's sermon didn't begin until 1 a.m. last night or early this morning when I would have preferred just being tucked up in bed, the more so as health-wise yesterday was a particularly bad day. Actually I knew what Yahweh wanted me to talk about about four hours before, just as as I was getting ready for my bed. I had struggled all day trying to find out what He wanted me to talk about but felt so abominably ill that it was all I could do to remain awake. I had planned to issue yet another apology and forego speaking to you today. Well, that didn't work. Instead, He tells me, just as I am packing up for the night, to preach on Matthew 19:16-17 - and to be exact, the words of the King James Version of this passage flashed into my head:
Why Did Yah'shua Deny He was Good?
"And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, Elohim (God): but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments" (Matt.19:16-17, KJV - words not in the original are in italics).
The KJV is what I was brought up on so it is the version I have memorised. So, the Ruach (Spirit) puts this passage into my mind in response to my petition, but with a difference: the words "Good Master" were, as it were, emboldened, with the emphasis on the word 'good'. 'Uh oh', I thought to myself, He wants me to explain what Yah'shua (Jesus) meant in denying that He, who was both sinless man and incarnate Elohim (God), was 'good', and although the text does not say that no one is good but the 'Father', the assumption that most reading this passage make is that the 'Father' has to be whom He is referring to, even though the word 'Elohim (God') is used and ccould theoretically apply to Yah'shua (Jesus) too...since He is Elohim (God) like the Father.
A Question of Modesty?
So as I was climbing the stairs on my way to the bathroom a cascade of thoughts was going through my head. One of the standard 'explanations' of this KJV passage is that Yah'shua (Jesus) wasn't denying that He was good. He was simply being modest. That's fine since the Saviour wished it to be known to His enquirer that the source of everything in Him was the Father, even though He too is Elohim (God) and shares His attributes with the Father. So, as I have always understood it, Yah'shua (Jesus) was simply exemplifying one of the divine attributes in the depths of His being - modesty.
In the Bag
So as I was washing and brushing my teeth I was basically satisfied that this was the line I would be taking in my exegesis of this passage today. And, of course, there is that extra 'bonus' for messianics which was the instruction to obey the mitzvot (commandments) in order to enter into chayim (life). 'Perfect', I thought to myself - 'there is so much in one passage', I could easily make a sermon out of that, as the Ruach (Spirit) led.
Other Versions Disagree with the KJV
So an hour after midnight I sat down and opened one of the several Bible versions I keep in my 'prayer closet' and got a surprise because it was different to the wording of the KJV. Then I tried another version, and another, and then another. They all disagreed with the KJV! Here's the first version I chanced to open - see if you notice the difference:
More Additions to the KJV
"Then someone came to Him and said, [missing word] Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal chayim (life)? And He said to him, 'Why do you ask Me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into chayim (life), keep the mitzvot (commandments)'" (Mt.19:16-17, NRSV).
Well, of course, I immediately broke out the Aramaic and Greek texts to find that the KJV had added several things not in the original. The rich young ruler never said "Good Master" but simply "Master" or "Teacher". Then I found the KJV had added seven more words not in the original, specifically:
The Correct Translation Makes the Text Much Simpler to Understand
"Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, Elohim (God)" (v.7a, KJV)
So there I was, settled to write today's sermon, only to have it shot out of the water...a reason why it is important to take the trouble to check the original language. Actually, the correct translation forces us to rethink this passage. The good news is that it makes it a lot easier to understand. Let's think on it using a paraphrase:
And then the account continues:
"Someone came to Yah'shua (Jesus) with this question: 'Teacher, what good things must I do to have eternal chayim (life)?' 'Why ask me about what is tov (good)?' Yah'shua (Jesus) replied. 'Only Elohim (God) is tov (good). But to answer your question, you can receive eternal chayim (life) if you keep the mitzvot (commandments)'" (Mt.19:16-17, NLT).
And then you recall how the Master points out this man's one great idolatry, his inordinate love of money. But that's not what I want to talk about today.
"'Which ones?' the man asked. And Yah'shua (Jesus) replied: 'Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not testify falsely. Honour your father and mother. Love your neighbour as yourself'" (v.18, NLT).
The Nature of Salvation and Eternal Life
So this has nothing to do with Yah'shua (Jesus) denying that He is good out of some sense of modesty. What Yah'shua (Jesus) is at pains to point out was that this man misunderstood how one is saved. We are not saved by doing good deeds because all goodness comes directly from Yahweh. If goodness saved a man then it would not be something he could naturally generate or produce of his own. It cannot originate from his flesh. We cannot manufacture goodness and be saved by it. Nevertheless, we are reminded of the importance of obeying the mitzvot (commandments) of Torah. Why are they important? Because by means of such obedience we "enter [eternal] chayim (life)" (vv.,17b, NIV).
The Relationship Between Obedience and Eternal Life
OK, so here is a problem that evangelical Christians have. If we are not saved by good works, why does obeying the mitzvot (commandments) ensure that we enter into "eternal chayim (life)"? Later on in the same chapter Yah'shua (Jesus) additionally says:
The 15 Conditions for Eternal Life
"And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for My sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal chayim (life)" (v.29, NIV).
Protestants are often shocked to discover that there are things we must do to inherit eternal chayim (life). There are actually fifteen things we have to do to receive our inheritance in the next life:
I am going to leave you with some study material at the end of this assembly or you can check it out online .
- 1. Love Yahweh with all your mind, might and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself (that's everyone);
- 2. Obey the Old Testament Commandments (Mitzvot) and specifically the Ten Commandments (which are summaries of all the others);
- 3. Overcome idolatry (e.g. love of money - anything that might come between you and Yahweh, lawful and unlawful);
- 4. Follow Yah'shua (Jesus) (imitate His life, do as He says);
- 5. Hear/listen to Yah'shua's (Jesus') words (i.e. study your New Testament deligently);
- 6. Be prepared to sacrifice and be persecuted for Yah'shua's (Jesus') sake (passaive faith is not enough);
- 7. Believe the words of Yahweh (God the Father) in the Tanakh (Old Testament - that's primary Scripture for all believers);
- 8. Believe Yah'shua (Jesus) (as the Messiah - your Master and Saviour, deliverer from sin);
- 9. Love your brother (view him as better than yourself);
- 10. Hate your life in the world system (don't imitate the world and its sinful behaviour);
- 11. Follow and serve Yah'shua (Jesus) (faith is not passive but active) - see this movie:
- 12. Persist in doing good;
- 13. Keep yourself in Yahweh's love (make sure that His love drives all you do);
- 14. Become holy or set-apart from the world system (it's a completely different lifestyle to Yahweh's) - take a look at this movie;
- 15. Receive it as a free gift from Elohim (God) (you can't earn the power of eternal life - it comes only by faith).
Difficult But Necessary Concepts to Understand
So back to the original question: if salvation is by grace - Yahweh's undeserved loving kindness - through emunah (faith), as we know it is so that no man may boast of having the power to save himself, because it is a free gift (Eph.2:8-9), then why a 15-point list of things to 'do'? Why, if "only One is good" (v.17, NIV), should we need to be about these 15 things at all? Because the good we are commanded to do is not meritorious in obtaining deliverance from sin, guilt and death. Elohim (God) alone is good in that respect. We cannot be delivered 'to' without first being delivered 'from'. Only Yah'shua (Jesus) can deliver us 'from' but it is up to us to live out our salvation in the way He has ordained because this is the assurance of our passage 'to' and residency in His Kingdom - there are entrance qualifications, and those qualifications are Torah-obedience - adherence to the mitzvot (commandments). And that is because the "Kingdom of Heaven" and "eternal chayim (life)" are used synonymously (particularly in John's Gospel), just as to "enter life" is the same as "getting eternal chayim (life)".
The Package Deal
So to repeat, as I know that is something that confuses a lot of evangelicals: the requirement to "obey the mitzvot (commandments)" is not to establish ones merit before Yahweh but is to be an expression of true emunah (faith) which is the foundation of Kingdom of Chayim (Life). In other words, those who inherit the Kingdom in the resurrection are commandment-keepers by nature - it is integral to their character and being because that is what truly being saved by grace makes them into. If you are resistant to the mitzvot (commandments) - if there is some part of New Covenant Torah that still repells you, then that part of you is still in the flesh and has yet to be delivered from sin and into salvation. The saved are never given a licence to be lawless because we are forbidden to resemble the lawless one, Satan (2 Thes.2:8-9; Heb.10:17; 2 Pet.2:7-8; 3:17). We are to resemble Him. Correspondence of character, supernaturally achieved by grace (undeserved loving kindness, unmerited favour) through emunah (faith) in consequence of repentance, and maintained by choosing that quality of lived experience called 'goodness', is together what effects the Divine Transfer from Satan's Kingdom to Yahweh's Kingdom and ensures our inheritance rights to the first resurrection as opposed to the second (which is for the willfully disobedient).
The Saved Must Do
This really ought to be common sense because there has to be a balance between grace and justice. Antinomians tend to be biased towards grace and legalists towards justice. Nevertheless the saved are called to walk - act, behave, do - that which is good:
The Good Shepherd
"This is what Yahweh says: 'Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls" (Jer.6:16, NIV).
In fact, Yah'shua (Jesus) does specifically say that He is good? Does anyone remember where?
The Messiah's Eaxmple of Doing Good
"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep" (Jn.10:11, RSV).
It also says that "He went around doing good" (Acts 10:38, NIV). The Saviour does good because that is His very nature as Elohim (God). When people do good it is not because that is our natural state but because we have chosen to embrace the Source of Elohim (God) who is good. Yet it is a real choice. It isn't forced on us. We can resist it.
Goodness and Love
Is there a difference between good and, say, ahavah (love)? There is a fine distinction which the English writer W. Somerset Maughan I garnered:
The Sterner Qualities of Love
"Loving-kindness is the better part of goodness. It lends grace to the sterner qualities of which this consists" .
Do you think he was right to attribute to goodness 'sterner qualities' not found in 'loving-kindness' (which translates the Hebrew word chesed, a word closely related to chesed and agapé (love))? In what sense can goodness be 'stern'? Consider that the "Good Shepherd" told the young ruler:
"'If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me'. But when the young man heard this, he went sadly away because he had many possessions" (Mt.19:21-22, NLT).
For the young rich man, I would say that was a 'stern' requirement, good and necessary though it was, because wealth was a canker to his soul preventing chesed (loving-kindeness) from arising and flowing in his heart, that gentler part of the Divine which can only be born when by shere will-power and determination we have chosen to allow Yah'shua (Jesus) to break us out of our restraining carnal prison.
Goodness as Creative Actioned Intent
So goodness, I would argue with Overstreet, is "a special kind of emet (truth) and beauty. It is emet (truth) and beauty in human behaviour" . It is only know by, or revelaed on, our actions, which means it is a fruit of pro-active, not passive, emunah (faith). Goodness is a quality of lived experience, first chosen and then carried out by the saved, or perhaps it would be more accute to say it is being done by those "being saved" (1 Cor.1:18) as we "continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12, NIV). Yahweh did not proclaim anything tov (good) until He had made it, until He had creatively actioned His Davar (Word), His original intent:
Opposition to Goodness
"And Elohim (God) saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good" (Gen.1:31, RSV).
Since 'goodness' implies some sort of creative action - it's not just a mental intent or a feeling or sentiment - then we may expect Satan to oppose any actioned or 'incarnated' throughts and desires through his agents. The great German missionary and theologian, Albert Schweitzer of Straßburg, gave this warning:
Goodness is a Many-Splendoured Experience
"Anyone who proposes to do good must not expect people to roll stones out of his way, but must accept his lot calmly even if they roll a few more on it" .
I must add one more thing to this observation about doing goodness in the world of fallen men and women: there is no glory to be had in it for the world will neither praise nor herald you for it because what the world holds out as 'goodness' usually isn't the same as Yahweh's view of it. Thus for Elohim (God) goodness includes such human experiences as loyalty toward Yahweh and men (1 Sam.29:9) where it is called "blamelessness" (NRSV), hospitality (Gen.26:29), prosperity (Hos.10:1) and even old age (Gen.15:15)! Goodness describes the sensuous pleasures of sweetness (Jer.6:20), fragrance (SS 1:3) and beauty (Gen.24:16). Was it not Yahweh Himself who brought Israel into a "good and broad land, flowing with milk and honey" (Ex.3:8, NRSV), "a good land" of brooks and water, of countains and springs (Dt.8:7-10). The sense of 'goodness', which is clearly both spiritual and physical - as it must be if it is to be actioned in the physical world - is in one sense captured well by David Grayson who said:
"And when we come to think of it, goodness is uneventful. It does not flash, it glows. It is deep, quiet, and very simple. It passes not with oratory, it is commonly foreign to riches, nor does it often sit in the places of the mighty: but it may be felt in the touch of a friendly hand or the look of a kindly eye" .
People of Nature and Home
But then, of course, all Yahweh's expressed goodness on earth is but a foreshadowing of the world to come. What is it that the righteous appreciate the most? Simple things, like hearth and home, garden and field, friends and loving relationships. Little wonder that Paradise is presented to us as a Garden. The saved are people of the garden, of nature, of gurgling brooks, stunning landscapes, and all inhabited by those we love and who love us. We are people of the home.
Goodness is Being Like Elohim
Goodness is not merely being 'good' at something like 'he is good at languages'. Goodness, or being good, is being like Elohim (God). It is doing something positive that exhibits our likeness to Him. The Bible says that when we say, 'I want to be good', we are really saying, 'I want to be like Elohim (God)'. Being good is living the way Yahweh wants us to live. It means supernaturally living the Torah lifestyle in a natural, one-day-to-be-glorified, setting, a New Eden.
Living According to Scripture
The Davar Elohim (Word of God) - the Bible or Scriptures - is a clear statement of what Yahweh wants us to do and knows is best for us. To live according to Scripture is to live according to His will, and that is living a good life (Ps.119:40). In reading the Book of Job, for instance, we see from the first verse a plan being followed by a godly man that is simple in design yet so difficult in practice because of the sinful, fleshy nature. When we avoid evil and honour Yahweh, we can't help but 'be good' (Job 1:1). Every time we return good for evil, we score a real victory in our life (1 Sam.24:9-10). Kind deeds are acts of goodness which bring the respect of others (1 Tim.5:10).
From Goodness to Harm
Everywhere you read in the Bible you find a witness of Elohim's (God's) goodness, including creation (which figures prominently) but also in His faithfulness of His Covenant people, both the original Israel (Ex.18:9) and New Covenant or Messianic Israel. But lest we lose our sense of realism, or try to minimise the flesh or the seriousness of sin, Joshua reminds us that Yahweh "will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good" if we forsake His ways (Josh.24:20). The exhortation to be faithful to covenant (b'rit) and walk in Yahweh's Derech (Way) is very common in the prophetic literature (Jer.6:16; Hos.3:5). So we must not forget the negative consequences of forsaking goodness. We none of us ever escape the consequences of disobedience and rebellion. The coin of goodness has an obverse side which is but a hair's breadth away. The power of choice, for good or evil, is, frankly, terrifying at times. So choose wisely.
Only Elohim is Good After All
The very Name of Yahweh is "good", says the Psalmist (Ps.54:6), a reminder that a name is a person's character and not to get too hung up on pronunciations. The Ruach (Spirit) and Her fruits are good too (Ps.143:10; Gal.5:22). Indeed, we come full circle with the revelation, that I stressed at the beginning, that there is no good apart from Elohim (God) (Ps.16:2), for Yahweh alone is good (Mt.19:17).
Goodness as Witness
We can show our appreciation to Yahweh for His goodness to us by showing goodness to others, especially when it is undeserved (1 Chr.16:34; Ps.7:17). What we say opens the window to our soul and shows the world around us what is inside. If we have practiced goodness from Elohim (God), the world will see treasures within, and be drawn; and those who are drawn, because they desire the same, will rejoice. If we haven't done this, the window of our speech will reveal the improverishment of our soul (Mt.12:35) and repell people, making our witness useless.
Agathós and Ponerós
Not surprising, then, that the Greek translators of the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament) used the word agathós to describe goodness, a word that means the moral excellency or a person or an object. It's where we get the not-so-commonly-used English girl's name 'Agatha' from. Matthew consistently contrasts this agath'os with ponerós or 'evil' in his description of individuals (Mt.5:45; 12:34-35; 22:10; 25:21-26). Paul uses the word agathós a great deal in his epistle to the Romans where he discusses Elohim's (God's) goodness and the good for which humans strive.
Good Fruit, Good Seed and Fine Pearls
The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) uses a related word, kalós in parables and moral exhortations. Famous passages that speak of "good fruit" (Mt.3:10) and "good seed" (Mt.13:38) and "fine pearls" (Mt.5:45) are ones you'll know well. All of them signify the goodness that resides within our Elohim (God). Finally, a third word, chrestós, is used by Paul to refer to the goodness of Elohim (God) directly. Elohim (God) is good!
Repaying Evil With Good
By way of adding a counter-balance, and to remind us that these are very sober thoughts, we must remember that Scripture says that repaying good with evil has serious consequences (Prov.17:13) so let us make sure we are are repaying evil with good, as the Master commanded us. Yahweh is good to those who seek Him (Lam.3:25) and brings good out of bad circumstances (Rom.8:28) if we will but trust Him, something we talked about last sabbath (Gratitude & Praise: Giving Thanks in All Things?).
So, yes, Yah'shua (Jesus) is definitely our 'Good Master' but He never did refuse anyone who acknowledged that He was good, because as Elohim (God) He never refused worship or praise either. He accepted Thomas' worship (Jn.20:28). Yet He subordinated Himself to Yahweh-Elohim as a true Son, imitating Him as we too are supposed to imitate the Son with our good works enabled only by the power of the resurrection which dwells in the saved. Our own goodness, when we exercise it, is always derived, and never self-generated. Nevertheless we can - and must - choose it and by means of it are demonstrating the inheritance rights of our salvation in the Eternal Kingdom of Chayim (Life).
May the grace of our Father through Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) be with you today and always. Amen.
"Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is mercifuf" (Luke 6:35-36, NIV).
 See How Do I Get Eternal Life?
 W. Somerset Maughan, The Summing Up (Bernhard Tauchnitz: 1938), p.242
 H.A.Overstreet, The Enduring Quest (Jonathan Cape: 1931), p.174
 Albert Schweitzer, Out of My Life and Thought (Henry Holt & Co.: 1949), p.92
 David Grayson, Adventures in Contentment (Andrew Melrose: 1946), p.192