THE VERY SPECIAL KIND OF ‘GOOD WORKS’ THAT DO NOT DRAW ATTENTION TO US, BUT GLORIFY OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN
The Master said: “LET YOUR LIGHT SO SHINE BEFORE MEN THAT THEY MAY SEE YOUR GOOD WORKS . . . AND GLORIFY YOUR FATHER WHO IS IN HEAVEN.”
Like a lamp lifted high, we are always to be on public display. But it is not our talent, our charisma, our beauty, our intelligence, our emotions, our debating ability, our theological positions, or our opinions about politics, philosophy, ideology, economics, science, medicine, or ‘good’ and ‘evil’ that are to be put front and center for everyone to see. There is only one thing that men are to notice about us: i.e. our ‘good works’. Our ‘good works’, and those alone, are what the Master intends to shine before men.
But what kind of ‘good works’ was the Master talking about? What, to a Hebrew of the Master’s day, defined a person’s works, actions, and behaviors as ‘good’. The disciples of the 1st Century understood what we in the 21st Century Western culture do not. The Hebrew people of the Master’s day had only one definition of ‘good works’ – i.e. engaging real-life people and situations in the ways in compliance with the Creator of the Universe’s ‘how-to-live-a-good,-meaningful,- and-impactful-life instruction book’ – the one called ‘Torah.’
Random acts of kindness are not at all what the Master had in mind as ‘good works’. Nor are marches or protests for ‘social justice’. Nor is either sitting in the seat of the scornful to judge, or engaging in public diatribes denouncing, things or people we consider ‘immorality’, ‘evil’, ‘unjust’, unconscionable’, or ‘treasonous’. The Master and His Disciples knew. They had learned the Torah’s instructions for a well-lived life with positive Kingdom impact as children. They studied them over again, in sequence, every year; they meditated on them day and night; they talked about them as they lay down and as they walked by the way. They had them inscribe on the doorposts of their houses and on their gates. They bound them as reminders upon their hands and as frontlets before their eyes.
The Master was not talking about doing the ‘good works’ described in Torah as a means of their ‘earning salvation’; He would have considered that thought blasphemous. To the Master and His disciples, the purpose of following Torah was not self-centered or self-serving, or theological at all – it was for the exact reason that the Master said: that men would see, and GLORIFY OUR FATHER WHO IS IN THE HEAVENS.
NOT TO DESTROY . . .
The Master said: “DO NOT THINK THAT I CAME TO DESTROY THE ‘LAW’ OR THE ‘PROPHETS’.”
The Master did not conform to any social, political, ideological, ethnic, or religious label – or start any new ‘brand’ focused on any of those over-exposed distraction-triggers. He did not call people to either join, support, form, or maintain any institutional religious organization or system. He did not promote or condone any of the institutions, practices, or activities of Greco-Roman lawlessness, Eastern mysticism, or native naturalism. He also did not promote any of the unique institutions, sacramental modalities, or belief matrices claimed as ‘true’ by any of the widely-divergent branches of Judaism practiced in that day – i.e. the Pharisaic-Hillellian branch, the Pharisaic-Shammaian branch, the Saduccean branch, the Essene branch, or the Patriotic Zealot branch. Furthermore, He wanted His followers to understand that He was also not promoting the establishment of any kind of new institution, sacramental modalities, or belief matrix unique to Him or them.
What, then, did the Master come to do? He wanted to make His mission very, very clear from the outset. He came to call His Covenant people – and through their testimony, people of all tongues, tribes, and nations – back to the true tone of Torah as it was intended from the beginning before it got polluted by either the fleshly things of which the heathen are so enamored or the pseudo-intellectual abstractions with which the religious are so obsessed. He came to expose mankind to, and invite them to delight in, embrace, and practice the real, undiluted Torah lifestyle – as that lifestyle was designed in the mind of the Creator before the foundation of the world, as it was intended to be practiced by sons and daughters of the Covenant, and as the prophets had called for and exhorted for centuries.
NOT TO DESTROY. The MASTER will provide a more detailed explanation with the next few statements, of course; but NOT TO DESTROY is his essential premise. The Master wants those who follow Him to understand what theologians cannot – that the Torah and the Prophets are by no means a ‘failed plan’ of a bumbling Creator – something He came to toss on the trash heap and write off as a huge mistake; they are, instead, the untapped spring that releases waves of love, joy, peace, hope, fruitfulness, productivity, and powerful winds of Kingdom of Heaven culture to the earth and its populace.
BUT TO FULFILL . . .
The Master proceeded to explain His bold declaration that He had not come to do away with or annul the Torah in any way by saying: “I DID NOT COME TO DESTROY IT, BUT TO FULFILL IT.”
So the Master sees His mission as being to ‘fulfill’ the Torah. The verb He used, which has been translated into English as to ‘fulfill’, was not theological in connotation, but practical. Drawn from the ancient craft of mariners, the Greek verb plero’o means to hoist a sail to catch the full power of the wind. It does not mean to put an end to its object, or to make anything obsolete; no, it connotes the exact opposite. It means to make full, to use all potential, to make maximally powerful, in order to make functional and impactful at the highest level possible.
The Master’s plan was not to do away with or diminish the impact of the Torah; His plan was to lift the Torah up to a much higher level than anyone alive was teaching or practicing it – a level where the wind of the Ruach catches it, unfolds it in all its glory, and transforms it into the full measure of the practical, functional masterpiece of Divine Craftsmanship it was designed to be.
UNTIL HEAVEN AND EARTH PASS AWAY . . .
The Master said: “UNTIL HEAVEN AND EARTH PASS AWAY, NOT ONE YOD [i.e. the smallest Hebrew letter] OR ONE TITTLE [a precise Hebrew letter-differentiating brush stroke made by a scribe] WILL BY ANY MEANS PASS FROM THE TORAH UNTIL ALL COMES INTO FULLNESS.”
Heaven has not passed away; nor has earth. Nor, therefore, has any provision of Torah been even amended or modified in the tiniest detail, much less abrogated as a whole. Torah is pure Divine Wisdom, and as such is eternal and unchanging. It constitutes nothing short of the Creator of the Universe’s instruction manual on how He designed life on planet earth to be lived to its fullest. The only thing related to Torah that is fluid, therefore, is the way arrogant, self-deceived men will choose to interpret and implement – or ignore – it. Torah as the Qodesh One gave it endures and remains; men’s doctrines and theories about it? Not so much!
Think of a spring bursting forth from a hillside. It keeps flowing, and watering the earth, even if no human being sees it, washes his hands or face in it, drinks from it, or collects it in jars to disperse to family, friends, and weary travelers. It keeps flowing, and offering life, hope, and health to the world, even if those who carry it spill it – or foolishly dump it out on the ground and trod on it – along the way. And, like a spring bursting forth from a hillside, it will keep calling humans back, whispering in the deep-unto-deep language of the soul: “Ho, everyone that thirsts – COME TO THE WATERS!”
THE SLIPPERY SLOPE OF LEAST-NESS
Re-emphasizing His affirmation of the Torah, the Master said: “WHOEVER THEREFORE BREAKS ONE OF THE LEAST OF THESE COMMANDMENTS, AND TEACHES MEN TO DO THE SAME, SHALL BE CALLED LEAST IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.“
The Master makes it clear that we who follow Him are to be both sources of blessing to all our spheres of influence and shining lamps of hope and joy for all people and nations of the world. He has laid out for us a two-pronged approach to doing that. First, from an attitude and objective standpoint, He calls on us to embrace the eight pillars of the Kingdom of Heaven He taught us: i.e. humility, longing for Jerusalem, self-denial, mercy, purity of heart, shalom, patient endurance of persecution, and joy in the face of reviling. Then, from a behavior standpoint, He calls on us to conform all our speech, conduct, behavior, and social interactions to the Divine instructions for a well-lived and abundant life set forth in detail in the five books of Torah. A (Kingdom attitude) plus B (Kingdom behavior) equals C (Kingdom impact).
The Master’s Plan calls for us to embrace the complete package He offers, both attitude-wise and behaviorally. He does not want us to dilute the Kingdom message by ‘cherry-picking’ – i.e. disregarding some of the attitude/objective elements He described or some of Torah’s instructions for living a maximally-whole and productive life.
And if one – or a whole movement – of us personally chooses to follow our fleshly desires, our pseudo-intellects, and our self-will instead of doing what we are called to do, and then not only excuse/self-justify ourselves, but turn around and tell others that it is permissible, or even commendable, to do so . . . well, if we would do that, we would quickly become lamps without light, salt without savor, and virtually useless to the Kingdom.
THE SECRET OF GREATNESS . . .
After teaching what kind of approach to Torah results in ‘least-ness’ in the Kingdom, the Master went on to reiterate what results in true greatness. “WHOEVER DOES [the Commandments of Torah] AND TEACHES THEM, HE SHALL BE CALLED GREAT IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.”
The Way of the Master is radically anti-religious. It does not focus on principles of morality, nor does it promote any matrix of abstract beliefs. It does not involve veneration of symbols, sacraments, or shrines. It does not call for the building or support of any kind of religious institution, nor for engaging in apologetics or reciting creeds. It involves doing two things humbly and faithfully, day in and day out, season after season, year after year. The first is to do the Will of the Creator/King as it is expressed in Torah, applying its instructions for living a well-lived life in human form to every situation, every interaction, in the face of every challenge life on earth throws at you. The second is to humbly and faithfully model to and apprentice others in how to do the same.
The secret is that greatness does not come from seeking greatness; it comes from seeking to always do the Will of YaHuWaH – and then teaching others how to live with that one over-riding desire as well.
THE BAR IS SET – AND IT IS HIGH!
The Master said: “UNLESS YOUR RIGHTEOUSNESS EXCEEDS THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE SCRIBES AND PHARISEES, YOU WILL BY NO MEANS ENTER THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.”
The Master’s calling is the highest calling that any human being can receive. It is a calling to a spiritual level of dedication and excellence that is comparable to a military organization’s invitation to elite, special forces training. And the ‘mark of the prize’ of the calling is RIGHTEOUSNESS – and in particular the kind and quality of RIGHTEOUSNESS that the Master Himself both exudes and trains us to put on like a garment/uniform, in order to deal with real life situations as Torah directs in general, but under His direction, at His command, under His direct orders, and following His example in all particulars.
The Master has already told us that one of the eight essential pillars of the Kingdom of Heaven is to be constantly ‘hungering and thirsting’ for, and therefore passionately pursuing, RIGHTEOUSNESS. Now He makes it clear that our pursuit of RIGHTEOUSNESS is to be qualitatively and motivationally more passionate and lasting than that of any of the zealously religious, pious folk in any of the extant forms of institutional religion. He knows that all forms and movements of institutionalized religion eventually degenerate into hypocrisy; into competition for positions and favor; into entanglement with political power structures and their intrigues; into emphasis on money, shrines, and meetings; into nit-picking debates over abstract issues of theology; into vain imaginations; into uncleanness; into idolatry of symbols and sacraments; into fretting over and gossiping about evildoers; and into turning men into harsh, ivory tower judges instead of humble, compassionate servants.
So the Master sets the bar – and sets it very, very high. He wants to set it so high that we realize from the outset that we will never be able to attain this bar on our own, no matter how hard we may try. He shows us the well-meaning scribes and the Pharisees as proof of that. We have to do better. We are called to something far greater. We are called to do what we see the Master doing, and speak only the Words He gives us to speak; we are called to serve like He serves, to love like He loves, and to forgive and restore as He forgives and restores – leaving judgment for its’ assigned time at the end of days.
Only the Master can train us to reach the bar called KINGDOM RIGHTEOUSNESS. Only working with Him, under His direction, can it be attained. And that is exactly the way it should – and was always meant – to be.
WHAT PUTS A MAN IN DANGER OF JUDGMENT?
The Master followed up His call to a stunningly ‘higher bar’ of righteousness by saying: “YOU HAVE HEARD THAT IT WAS SAID ‘YOU WILL NOT KILL’, AND THAT ‘WHOEVER KILLS WILL BE IN DANGER OF JUDGMENT’. BUT I SAY TO YOU THAT WHOEVER IS ANGRY WITH HIS BROTHER WILL BE IN DANGER OF JUDGMENT’.
The Master was very careful – indeed, artful – with words. He cleverly contrasted quotes from two clearly separate sources: First, He quoted the Torah of YaHuWaH, which declares: “YOU WILL NOT KILL.” Secondly, the Master followed with a tidbit of scribal rabbinic interpretation not found anywhere in the Torah, but added by religious men – namely: AND “WHOEVER KILLS WILL BE IN DANGER OF JUDGMENT’. The Master was making a fine distinction – for those with ears to hear – between the actual words of YaHuWaH and words sloppily added by men who are always seeking to substitute their own thoughts – and judgments – for those of the Creator. He who has an ear, let him hear!
The Master did not – would not – change, alter, or augment a single word the Creator spoke at Sinai – Heaven forbid! What He WOULD DO and DID was challenge the folly and short-sightedness of the words and concepts that men had added to the Torah. He addressed the heart of the matter: i.e. what brings men ‘in danger of judgment’? He made it clear that a human being’s own ANGER toward his fellow man is what most effectively does that. Whether or not a man ever acts on his ‘anger impulse’ with an act of physical violence or not, the very act of embracing anger or offense immediately removes a person from the realm of Kingdom righteousness and puts him in ‘danger of judgment’. Anger with fellow humans and righteousness are, quite simply, mutually exclusive.
The ‘stunningly higher bar’ that the Master revealed for His disciples requires understanding that the root of all anti-social or violent behavior is a man’s self-will and fleshly emotion and his consequent embracing of an offense, a grudge, or a desire for vengeance. The high calling of Torah requires us to take responsibility for our thoughts, emotions, and reactions – not just our tendency toward physical aggression. Self-control and denial – i.e. the Kingdom of Heaven’s first essential element of spiritual discipline – starts with one’s thought life, self-talk, and emotions, not with physical actions. If one waits for physical actions to occur to practice self-denial, one will find himself trying desperately to stop a fully-loaded freight train barreling down a steep embankment with nothing but his bare hands.
THE ‘HIGHER BAR’ AS IT RELATES TO THE WORDS OF OUR MOUTHS
The Master said: “WHOEVER SAYS OF HIS BROTHER ‘RACA’ – i.e. useless, empty, without value, worthless – SHALL BE IN DANGER OF [being called before and held accountable by] THE SANHEDRIN.’
The Master makes it clear that each of us will be – should be – MUST, FOR THE SAKE OF THE KINGDOM, BE – held accountable for every hint of negative speech about our fellow man – i.e. what in Hebrew is known as lashon hara. We are here on earth, at such a time as He has assigned to us, to bless. We are here to see and declare potential. We are here to inspire, encourage, motivate, and empower. We are here to breathe life into dry bones. Our time is far too precious to engage in criticism, cynicism, sarcasm, or any other form of counter-intelligence.
Each time we apply a derogatory label or epithet to any another person, we set ourselves up as adversaries to the Grand Redemptive and Restorative Plan of our King. Each time we sit down in the seat of the scornful and speak negativity we become saboteurs of the Operative Strategy of His Kingdom. For every idle word, therefore, we must give an account. What we sow, we will reap. It is not our calling – or our right – to declare who is worthless, who is evil, or who is vain, narcissistic, etc. That will be determined by YaHuWaH, and Him alone.
THE MASTER’S ‘HIGHER BAR’ PROTOCOLS FOR CONVERSATION
Continuing with His ‘Higher Bar’ protocols, the Master said: WHOEVER SAYS (to another) ‘YOU ARE A FOOL’ – i.e a ‘moron’, ‘idiot’, etc.- IS TO BE BOUND OVER UNTO THE FIRE OF GEHINNOM – i.e. the Valley of Lamentation, south and east of Jerusalem, where refuse was taken to be burned and where unclean vessels, not suitable for use in the Temple, were exposed to fire for purification.
Our ability to engage in conversation with our fellow human beings – i.e. our ‘articulation capacity’ – sets us apart from all other species. Articulation capacity is an inestimably great privilege – but like every great privilege, it carries with it correspondingly significant levels of responsibility and accountability. Words spoken in arrogance; words spoken in anger; words spoken in criticism; words spoken in condemnation; words spoken without the Kingdom filters of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, covenant fidelity, and self-denial in full operation; all such words are ‘idle’, and escape one’s lips at his own peril.
The Master’s ‘higher bar’ for those who follow Him requires us to elevate our approach to utterance. We are not to sabotage the opportunities for Kingdom influence He gives us by engaging in outrage expression, hate speech, or haughty speech. We are not to hurl insults, impugn anyone else’s intelligence, character, or spirituality; or call anyone a derogatory name. Our tongues hold the power of life and death – and that means ours as well as others.
Author: Bill Bullock