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Food For Your Soul
The Expository Teaching Ministry of Dr. D. Richard Ferguson 

Spreading & deepening delight in Christ

Q&A Episode 3                                     Next Episode  ...

Question 1: Exceptions to Commands

It seems that there are qualifiers for many of Jesus’ commands that are not stated or elaborated on in His sermons (such as cutting off a hand or eye if they cause you to sin, divorcing for only marital unfaithfulness, not retaliating and turning the other cheek when you are wronged, etc.). They obviously have some exceptions due to situations, intentions, and the heart of the issue and command. How do we distinguish when a situation is an exception to the blanket statements and make sure we aren't just rationalizing a way around the commands?
This is such a perceptive and important question!
The long answer to that question is my whole course on hermeneutics. And really, the answer is different for each of the examples in the question, so to really deal with this question we’d have to do a full study of each passage.
But for now, I’ll give you some general principles. The most important one is this: whenever you find yourself wrestling with a hard passage in Scripture, ask yourself, “Am I struggling to discover God’s will? Or am I struggling to resist God’s will?”
When God tells us to live in a way that we don’t want to live, our natural response is to look for exceptions, so we don’t have to bend completely to God’s will. And when we do that, most of the time we’ll find our final conclusion on the passage is that it means we should do exactly what we would have done anyway.
Someone really wants out of his marriage to marry someone else, he does a huge, complex study of the Scriptures on divorce and finally concludes that he is free to divorce and remarry in his case.
Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s wrong. Sometimes the thing we desire is indeed permitted by God’s Word even when at the first reading it doesn’t seem like it would be. It takes a lot of careful study of the context and the parallel passages and the intended purpose of the passage to figure it out. But in that process, pay very close attention to your attitude. Your attitude should be, “I want whatever God’s desire in this matter is, and nothing else. If it turns out his will is the opposite of this thing I want so bad, I’ll drop what I want in a New York minute and embrace God’s will wholeheartedly.” If your attitude is anything other than that, you’ll most likely end up misinterpreting and distorting his Word.
And the reason I keep using the word “will” instead of “law,” is because that eliminates loopholes. Laws have loopholes. Will doesn’t. And you can disobey God’s will even while keeping the letter of the law.
Example: Suppose you find your kids fighting and tell them, “No more yelling.” That’s the rule you’ve laid down—no yelling.
Now, suppose there’s a fire in the middle of the night, and your oldest child is the first to discover it. Do you want him to whisper his warnings at that point, or shout at the top of his voice? You want him to shout.
Is that an exception to the no yelling law? I wouldn’t put it that way. If you focus only on the letter of the law, then yes, it would be an exception. But if you focus on your father’s will—what he wants to accomplish with his rule, what is that? He wants harmony in the home, not fighting. It has nothing to do with fires or emergencies. So if you look at the father’s will, no hostility or fighting, then the green light for yelling in a fire isn’t an exception. It’s just an area where the no yelling rule was never intended to apply.
Not only that, but if focusing on the Father’s will prevents us from breaking the spirit of the law while keeping the letter.
Suppose your middle child punches his brother in the face, but he keeps his voice down the whole time. Has he followed his dad’s rule? If you focus on the letter, then yes. He didn’t yell. But if you focus on the father’s will, no, he totally disobeyed and deserves to be punished.
So the one kid whispered in a fight and deserves to be punished, and the other kids yelled at the top of his voice in a fire and gets rewarded.
Whenever you study God’s Word, always be seeking to discover and conform to God’s will. And if that’s your desire, you’ll tend to do a much better job answering the hard questions in those passages mentioned in the original question.

Question 2: Fasting

How important is fasting and how does it apply to modern times and societies? What would be the purpose and application today?
I gave a detailed answer to this question in the two sermons I gave back in 2011 on Matthew 6:17. Those messages can be found here.
The short answer to the question is that fasting is important simply because in Matthew 6 Jesus offered a reward to us if we do it (assuming we do it the right way). That alone is plenty reason to fast.
But fasting is an unusual practice because it’s presented as a good thing to do, yet the New Testament never commands it. We are never instructed to fast, but here’s the list of people in the Bible who fasted anyway: Hannah, David, Daniel, Moses, Elijah, Ezra, Barnabas, the Apostle Paul, the rest of the Apostles, John the Baptist, the early Church, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I think the reason it’s not commanded is because fasting isn’t an end in itself, it’s a tool for other purposes. What purposes? There are two contexts where we see it: times of especially deep sorrow and times especially urgent prayers.
Times of Sorrow
When they asked Jesus why his disciples didn’t participate in the ritualistic fasts, he said, “Why would they fast while the bridegroom is still with them?” You don’t fast at a wedding celebration; that would ruin the party. Then he goes on to say one day the bridegroom will be forcibly taken from them, and on that day they will fast. (Mt.9) The point there is that fasting is for times of sorrow, not times of joy.
And that’s really very natural. When excruciating, devastating things happen, we lose our appetite. That’s how God designed us. If someone is grieving, don’t pressure them to eat. It’s appropriate to fast.
And that’s especially the case in times of repentance. The most frequent purpose of fasting in Scripture is to humble yourself. Maybe you’ve sinned, but you don’t feel adequate sorrow and contrition, and you can use fasting, not to punish yourself, but to humble yourself. The feeling of weakness and emptiness assists in the process of self-humbling.
Psalm 35:13 … I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting.
Times of Earnest Prayer
The other primary context for fasting is when praying for some especially important request. It’s a way of crying out to God in a way that stands out from all your other prayers. When you’re really desperate for something from God. Because God responds to fasting. He’s more likely to answer your prayers when you fast.
That was usually the purpose of the self-humbling.
Ezra 8:21 … I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey
1 Kings 21:28 "Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster…

Question 3: The Lord's Prayer

The Lord's prayer is a model to follow, but how important is it to include all the elements modeled in our prayers? How often? We don't want it to be legalistic, but it seems important to not neglect the elements of the Lord's prayer very often.
We know it’s not a fixed, formulaic prayer to be recited word for word, because on the two occasions that Jesus gives it (Matthew and Luke) he does not use the same wording. And there are lots of prayers recorded in the Bible and not one of them recites the words of this prayer (including Jesus’ later prayers). So you’re right, it’s to be used as an outline, not a rote prayer. The Disciples did not say, “Teach us a prayer.” They said, “Teach us to pray.”
But on the other hand, it is fascinating to me that even though there are differences, when Jesus teaches on prayer on two separate occasions his model for prayer is so similar. It is not exactly the same, but there is a huge amount of similarity. Which means there is somewhat of a fixed framework that Jesus had in mind. It is not just one example of a good prayer. It is a pattern for prayer.
And we do need a pattern. Jesus didn’t answer this question by saying, “Simple - just pour out whatever’s on your heart to God.” There are some ways of praying that are not as good as other ways, and so Jesus is teaching us the right way.
So it’s good, when you pray, to begin with a focus on God—his worthiness and transcendence and fatherhood. The first three requests are all about God and his kingdom and will. Once you’ve prayed about that, then move to your requests for your situation. Pray for daily bread, not annual bread. Ask for help with temptation. Just go through the pattern.
Now, as for the question of whether you can leave elements out, sure. Again, if you study the prayers in the New Testament, you’ll see that some elements might be included and others not included. My practice is to follow the pattern of the Lord’s prayer in my daily prayer routine, but I leave a lot of leeway in other prayers to focus just on one of two things.
And for a detailed series of messages on that pattern, you can check out the series titled “ Jesus’ Pattern for Prayer.”

Question 3

Please interpret the metaphor of the eyes being the lamp to the body (Matt. 6:22).  
Matthew 6:22 "The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!  
The eyes refer to your outlook – your way of looking at things. In the context, specifically your way of looking at money and people. Your perspective is hugely important in how your life goes. It determines what you see and how you see it, how you interpret it, how you feel about it, how you remember it, and how you react to it. It doesn’t matter how much you see and hear if your perspective is off. You can get ten doctoral degrees and still be completely in the dark if your perspective on all that information is off while you’re being exposed to it.
When he says your eyes are the lamp of the body, the point of that is when your perspective is sincere (generous, without selfish motives) the whole body (your whole self) is filled with light (which is perception leading to spiritual life and health leading to righteousness).
Evil eyes (which is a perspective driven by greed and envy) make the lights go out, which cuts you off from reality.
For a full sermon on this passage see: The Disaster of a Dark Lamp Mt.6:22-23

ley of the Shadow of Darkness