Tuesday, February 22, 2011

New Testament Lesson #9 "Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God"

Matthew 6-7

Preparation:  Bring a lamp and set it on the classroom table, but don't plug it in.


"The Sermon on the Mount is perhaps the most significant testimony of our Lord ever recorded. It is a blueprint for exaltation because it bears witness of the Savior’s celestial nature" (Marsh).  Many people jokingly comment that life needs an instruction book.  Well, the Sermon on the Mount is just that.  "It is the constitution of Christian conduct—the rudder that should guide our actions and an important standard against which we can measure our spiritual development." (Bachman)

"The Sermon on the Mount is not an assemblage of disjointed sayings, spoken on diverse occasions, that have been combined in one place for convenience in presentation, as some uninspired commentators have speculated.  It is rather selected sayings, all spoken by Jesus on one day, following the ordination of the Twelve; it is that portion of his words, spoken on that occasion, which the Spirit knew should be preserved for us and for all men who seek truth" (McConkie, p. 117).

"The JST, like the Book of Mormon, makes it clear that the message now known as the Sermon on the Mount was directed to the Twelve Apostles and to the Savior’s disciples, or the baptized, covenant members of the Church...So in one sense the sermon was aimed at preparing the Saints to make covenants with God.  It was a call to a higher level of living as well as a mission call to share the gospel with others." (Marsh)

"This sermon is a recapitulation, a summary, and a digest of what men must do to gain salvation; and the eternal concepts in it are so stated that hearers (and readers) will get out of it as much as their personal spiritual capacity permits.  To some it will point the way to further investigation; to others it will confirm and reconfirm eternal truths already learned from the scriptures and from the preachers of righteousness of their day; and to those few whose souls burn with the fires of testimony, devotion, and valiance, it will be as the rending of the heavens: light and knowledge beyond carnal comprehension will flow into their souls in quantities that cannot be measured.  Every man must judge and determine for himself the effect the Sermon on the Mount will have upon him" (McConkie, p. 116).


Bearing in mind Elder McConkie's statement above, it is easy to understand that there are many ways of viewing, analyzing, interpreting, and explaining the Sermon on the Mount, including those found in the links at the end of this posting.  Even the same person may see it in different ways and learn from it different things at different times in his or her life.  Here is my present perspective on the Sermon:

I.   Directions for Spiritual Development (Matt. 5:1-48)
II.  Pitfalls to Avoid (Matt. 6:1-7:6)
III. Counsel for the Journey (Matt: 7:7-23)
IV. Conclusion (Matt. 7:24-27)

Write the outline on the board, leaving space after sections II and III to fill in details from the discussion.  (Section I was covered in the last lesson.)

(Please notice there are four significant JST additions in the Bible appendix for Matthew 6 and 7 [p. 802-803]).

Start fiddling with the lamp, trying to turn it on, and pretending that you don't realize it isn't plugged in.  Make a comment about how you know this is a really good lamp; why isn't it working?  Some helpful class member is sure to point out the problem, and you can then make the following point.

If I have a lamp with which to read at night, but I don't plug it in, I will not get any light.  No matter how good the lamp is, nothing will change for me; I will still be in the dark.  It must be plugged in to have the power to accomplish the task. 

Set your scriptures next to the lamp.

So is it the case with every gospel principle found in the scriptures.  We can read them, study them, know them, but until they are "plugged into" our everyday experience they won't have the power to enrich, enable, and sanctify our lives. 

So today we are going to discuss how we can "plug" the Sermon on the Mount into our lives.

Ask your class members to be thinking of specific examples of how living the Sermon on the Mount could make their lives happier this very week.  Very briefly review the "Directions for Spiritual Development" section, which was taught in the previous lesson.  Then divide the class up into two groups: one that will look over the "Pitfall" scriptures (6:1-7:6), and the other that will look over the "Counsel" scriptures (7:7-23).  You can use the ideas below to get the discussion started and also to elaborate on and validate the comments they share. 


5:1-11    The Beatitudes (the "Constitution for a Perfect Life")
5:13-16  Responsibility for Example
5:17-20  The Fulfillment of the Law
5:21-47  Examples of the Higher Law
5:48       Conclusion: These things will complete/perfect you

(See the previous entry for more on this section.)


Christ has shown us some specific danger zones that will rob us of happiness on our journey through life.  Anytime we are feeling unhappy, this list of pitfalls might be the first place to look to discover and eliminate the source of our misery.

Doing Good for Praise (Matt. 6:1-18)
"Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven." (Matt. 6:1).

Do we feel diminished in the service we give to our families, neighbors or ward if no one notices/appreciates it?

Are we content having only "our Father which seeth in secret" know the extent of a sacrifice we make? 

Will we get "full credit" in heaven for a fast that includes the components of mentally or verbally whining, focusing every thought on food, and letting everyone know that we are suffering? 

Do we offer a "better" prayer at a church function than we do when we are home beside our bed?

Here is the reward for not doing good to be seen of men:  We are free to have joy in our service, because that joy is not dependant on someone else's opinion of what we have done.

          The Lord's Instructions on Prayer
          Nestled in the center of the Sermon on the Mount,
          we find the Lord's Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13).  Each line
          of the Lord's prayer is a guideline for an effective prayer.
          Elder Bernard P. Brockbank wrote, "I learned the
          Lord’s Prayer as a child, but it was years later that I
          learned that our Savior’s elegant, simple, masterful
          words were actually a commandment. In the Lord’s
          Prayer...he teaches us how to pray and tells us to follow
          his model. Once I began obeying that commandment,
          my prayers were more personal, more purposeful, more

          “'After this manner therefore pray ye,' the Lord instructed.
          Since he had just warned against 'vain repetitions' in
          prayers, we know that he meant for us to use his prayer
          as a model for our own."

          (For more detail and explanation, follow the link to Elder
          Brockbank's article at the bottom of this page.)

Treasuring Temporary Things (Matt. 6:19-44)
"Lay not up for yourselves treasure upon earth...but lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven...For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (6:19-21).

"The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye [perspective] be single to [focused on] the glory of God, thy whole body [actions] shall be full of light" (6:22 JST).

"No man can serve two masters" (6:24).

"The first words we hear from [Christ's] premortal life as recorded in the scriptures are 'Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever' (Moses 4:2). The first words we have in the scriptures that the Savior spoke as a mortal include 'I must be about my Father’s business' (Luke 2:49). In Gethsemane He prayed, 'Not my will, but thine, be done' (Luke 22:42). His final words on the cross were 'Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit' (Luke 23:46) and 'Father, it is finished, thy will is done' (see JST, footnote to Matt. 27:50). From His premortal existence throughout His entire life, the Savior’s eye was single to doing the will of His Father.  To follow in the Savior’s footsteps is to assist the Father in His work and glory, which is 'to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man' (Moses 1:39)." (Marsh)

Do we give priority in our schedules to gospel study, service, temple & family history work, church callings, care of our family, prayer, etc.?

Do the principles of the gospel excite us?  Do we find ourselves thinking about them throughout the week, and trying to apply them to situations we face?

Do we love serving others, or does it feel like a frustrating interruption in our schedule? 

If our friends do not share the same values, standards, and beliefs that we have, do we change to meet theirs, or do we stand as an example of the believers?

Do we fill our home environment with art, music, and media that reflect our eternal perspective?

Of course, if we are spending time enjoying sinful activities, it is clear that we are serving the wrong master altogether.  We cannot live a double life for long.

Here is the reward for not treasuring temporal (temporary) things:  We free ourselves to be more happy, because our happiness is not based on things that will not last, but on eternal things.

Worrying (Matt. 6:25-33 JST)
"Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on.  Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?...Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.  Wherefore, seek not the things of this world but seek ye first to build up the kingdom of God, and to establish his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (6:25-33 JST).

Although the JST makes it clear that this was counsel to the Apostles as they were about to leave their livelihoods and start their full-time ministry, there is good counsel here for us as well.

Do we spend more time getting physically ready for church on Sunday, or getting spiritually ready for our communion at the sacrament table?

Do we worry excessively about money, health, safety, or things that are beyond our control despite doing our best to be prepared? 

"Take therefore no thought for the morrow...sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" (6:34).  The Lord advises us to focus on the things in the present, where we can take action, rather than wasting energy on worries about the future, which we cannot see.  Of course, we must make plans for the future.  But if we think about it, the Spirit will sometimes prompt us to do something tomorrow or next week, but most often it will prompt us about what we should do today.  We are "of little faith" (6:30) if we think we have to anxiously micro-manage our lives, as well as worry about things that are beyond our control, rather than living by the Spirit and trusting the Lord to guide us and care for us day by day.

Here is the reward for not worrying:  We can feel at peace, and all our energies can be spent on things that we can control.

Judging (Matt. 7:1-5)
Righteous judgment involves distinguishing between good and evil, and we must make those judgments.  But in this instance, we are talking about avoiding unrighteous judgment, which puts us in a state of opposition to others.  Judging almost always involves comparison--comparing others with ourselves.  We may judge someone else to be better than us in some way, or worse than us in some way.  Either way, one of us is going to look good, and the other is going to look bad, and we are going to have a feeling of enmity.

Another way of looking at it is that judging effectively puts us on a different team from the other person.  Remember the Father's work and glory is to bring to pass their exaltation, as well as ours, and if we are going to be on His team, that means we are going to be on their team.  Any offenses or inadequacies, then, can be viewed from a merciful vantage point.  We can assume the best was intended even if we cannot understand it.  We can accept that another's way of doing things is different from but very possibly just as good as ours.  We can always keep in mind that everyone's spiritual development is in a different place on the road to perfection.  We can always attempt to view others through the lense of Christ's love.  We then avoid the feelings of jealousy, anger, intimidation, irritation, superiority, disgust, and any other competitive misery, and replace them with compassion.

Here is the reward for not judging:  If we stop comparing, our own peace and happiness are no longer related to what others have, do, or are.

Not Treating Sacred Things Casually (Matt. 7:6-7 JST)
The JST links up two seemingly unrelated thoughts in the Sermon.  "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you" (7:6).  Many have had the disheartening experience of sharing a very sacred memory, testimony, or even miracle with others, only to have them doubt its divine origin.  The JST therefore counsels, "Say unto them, Ask of God; ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you" (Bible appendix, p. 803).   Rather than convincing others of our relationship with God, we are to teach that each person who will put forth the effort can have his own intelligence from God, his own personal miracles and transforming experiences.

Here is the reward for not treating sacred things casually:  The Lord will bless us with more sacred experiences, because we can be trusted.


How to Get Help (Matt. 7:7-11)
Take special note of the words "ask," "seek," "knock."  Effort is required.

"Spiritual knowledge is not available merely for the asking; even prayers are not enough.  It takes persistence and dedication of one's life" (Spencer W. Kimball, Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 389-390).

"The object of prayer is not to change the will of God, but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant, but that are made conditional on our asking for them...We pray in Christ's name when our mind is the mind of Christ, and our wishes the wishes of Christ...Many prayers remain unanswered because they are not in Christ's name at all; they in no way represent his mind, but spring out of the selfishness of man's heart" (Bible Dictionary, Prayer, p. 753).

How to Treat Others (Matt. 7:12)
The natural outgrowth of receiving the blessings from our Heavenly Father for which we ask, is the desire to bless others. This is what we call the Golden Rule: "Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets [the teachings of the scriptures]" (7:12).  Possibly the top of the list of things we would like for men to do for us would be to forgive us of our shortcomings, errors, and sins, so this would be a good place for us to work on in keeping the Golden Rule.

Which Path to Take/Who To Follow (Matt. 7:13-14/Matt. 7:15-23)
There are many philosophies of men that teach "ask and ye shall receive," as does the Sermon on the Mount (7:7-8), but most of them disregard the truth that "strait is the gate and narrow the way" (6:13-14) to a full and rich life here on earth and in the eternities.  Therefore, the counsel is very wise to "beware of false prophets...in sheep's clothing".  It could be that their advise will rip us apart as wolves would, make our lives bitter as rotten fruit will, and keep us from a true relationship with our Father in Heaven! (6:15-23)


The parable of the wise man and the foolish man is the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount, and it is a perfect ending.

"Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:  And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house; and it fell not; for it was founded upon a rock.

"And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:  And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell; and great was the fall of it" (7:24-27).

Here is a little object lesson for this parable:  In a 9x13 cake pan, make a little sand hill using a small bowl packed with damp sand.  (You may not want to invert it into the pan until you are in the classroom, so it won't fall apart.)  If you can't get any sand, you can make a "sand" hill out of packed brown sugar.  Put a good-sized rectangular rock next to the sand hill in the pan.  Tell the class to imagine a house built upon each of these hills.  Pour a pitcher of water over the two.  The sand hill will, of course, disintegrate, while the rock will, of course, retain its form.

Notice that the rain, the wind, and the flood attacked both houses.  No one escapes the storms of life, not even the disciples of Christ.  But the difference is in the effect they have upon us.  If we build our lives upon the foundation of the Rock found in the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, we may get wet, but we will still be standing.  "The Savior’s message in the Sermon on the Mount is that the basis of real happiness does not lie in trying to subdue the storms outside us, but in sacrificing our sins and allowing the Savior to activate righteousness within us" (Thomas).

There is no guarantee for those who base their lives on anything else.

"Much of the unhappiness we feel in this world comes from a refusal to let go of those things that cause our unhappiness. Often as we seek relief, we aren’t able to discern the real problem, and we have trouble shaking off a sense of dissatisfaction.  For those suffering spiritual and emotional distress, the Sermon on the Mount offers relief" (Thomas).


Jeffrey Marsh, "Prophetic Enlightenment on the Sermon on the Mount," Ensign, Jan. 1999
Danel Bachman, "Sermon of Sermons," Ensign, Mar. 1981
Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, Book 2
Bernard P. Brockbank, "After This Manner." New Era, Dec. 1981
Catherine Thomas, "Blessed Are Ye," Ensign, June 1987

Although I didn't use it in this lesson, a good article you may want to use which focuses on how the Sermon on the Mount gives counsel for improving marriage is "Your Marriage and the Sermon on the Mount," in the Sept. 1995 Liahona, or the August 1991 Ensign, by Paul K. Browning.


Anonymous said...

Nancy, Thank-you so much for your Blog! I am a gospel doctrine teacher, and have always been active, but am a little lax sometimes in my daily living and I have found that reading your blog, and working in my calling has helped to refine me, and make me a little better person. I really feel spiritually uplifted as I read your posts, and dive into the scriptures. I feel I am coming to know Christ more and more each week. I love this journey with you and your readers through the lessons.

Jason said...

Nancy, I too am a gospel doctrine teacher here in Australia. Your blog lessons ripple accross the world more than you probably realize blessing the lives of teachers and their classes alike. Thank you so much for the time and effort you put in. Your insight and wonderful spirit is a huge blessing to me and my Sunday school class. You provide a great foundation and ideas from which I draw on weekly and use as I'm guided to prepare my lesson. Thank you sister.

ilovechai said...

Hi Ms. Nancy, I am a single adult teacher here in the Philippines and I am so grateful for your blogs. It makes it easier for me to teach =) I actually follow it because it's more simple to understand.

Anonymous said...

i so enjoyed your blog and have utilized some of the object ideas into my Sunday School lesson. Thanks, im sure my class will be inspired and edified like i was when i read and studied your lesson.