Listening is essential to learning and growing. We learn in layers if we’re inquisitive and receptive enough to consistently seek and process. What we thought we understood at one point leads into a deeper familiarity. Sometimes we right misunderstandings in the process but, other times, we move from a glimpse of the truth to a wider perspective of the truth.
When Jesus began to teach, he often addressed people who had been steeped in Jewish teachings. What had been promised and revealed through such men as Moses, Abraham, Jacob, Jeremiah, David, and Isaiah had been passed along. People clung to the teachings of rules, carefully applying them into their lives and trying to assure others applied them as well. Legalism easily followed, because the rules could quickly become more important than the relationship God desired and intended through the standards.
Jesus began to uproot legalism of rules and reveal the truth of God’s grace. He weeded through what people thought to reveal the truth of God’s will. He replaced what people had heard with what is true.
“You have heard that it was said to our people long ago, ‘You must not murder anyone. Anyone who murders another will be judged.’” becomes “But I tell you, if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be judged. If you say bad things to a brother or sister, you will be judged by the council. And if you call someone a fool, you will be in danger of the fire of hell.So when you offer your gift to God at the altar, and you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there at the altar. Go and make peace with that person, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:21-24)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You must not be guilty of adultery.'” becomes “But I tell you that if anyone looks at a woman and wants to sin sexually with her, in his mind he has already done that sin with the woman. If your right eye causes you to sin, take it out and throw it away. It is better to lose one part of your body than to have your whole body thrown into hell. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:27-29)
“It was also said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a written divorce paper.’” becomes “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife forces her to be guilty of adultery. The only reason for a man to divorce his wife is if she has sexual relations with another man. And anyone who marries that divorced woman is guilty of adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-32)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.'” becomes “But I tell you, don’t stand up against an evil person. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other cheek also. If someone wants to sue you in court and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.If someone forces you to go with him one mile, go with him two miles.If a person asks you for something, give it to him. Don’t refuse to give to someone who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38-42)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemies.’” becomes “But I say to you, love your enemies. Pray for those who hurt you.If you do this, you will be true children of your Father in heaven. He causes the sun to rise on good people and on evil people, and he sends rain to those who do right and to those who do wrong.If you love only the people who love you, you will get no reward. Even the tax collectors do that. And if you are nice only to your friends, you are no better than other people. Even those who don’t know God are nice to their friends.” (Matthew 5:43-47)
You might wrestle with some of Jesus’ instructions. It’s okay to wrestle, as long as you are trusting God through the process, remaining close to him and trusting him to reveal what he wants you to know. Consider what you know now that you didn’t know five, ten, or twenty-five years ago.
What understanding are you seeking?
Are you growing in your intimacy with God, or are you thinking your way away from him?
Are you satisfied where you are, trusting what you’ve learned in the past, and closing your ears to the possibility or need of continually hearing refreshing and revealing words from God?
Invite God to replace your past understandings with wisdom for today. God’s truth doesn’t change, but it will change you every time you encounter him.