Upside Down and Inside Out
There are three areas we need to grow in as Christians
Content - knowledge of God and his Word
Character - being like Jesus
Competency - able to do the things Jesus did (discipleship, mission, healing etc.)
In my last post
I reviewed the two big themes that can help us understand passages in the bible - Covenant and Kingdom. This can help us with Content.
In this post I would like give an overview of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) as it is authoritative teaching from Jesus about Character. (We have just finished reading it in our daily reading plan - encounterbc.org
The sermon starts with Jesus describing those who are truly blessed - IT ISN'T those with the biggest, best or beautifulest (I know that isn't the correct word but it helps with the alliteration). Many cultures, including our own, hold that these are an indication of being blessed. However, Jesus teaches that it is those who are in the Kingdom of God (living under God's reign by following Jesus) who are truly blessed
. This upends usual ideas of blessing - Jesus teaches an Upside Down
Matt 5:13 - 7:6
From this foundation, Jesus goes on to teach about Character
. The essential idea is that you keep God's laws, not by striving to keep God's laws, but by seeking to become a person who automatically keeps God's laws. This is done by relying on God in discipleship to Jesus. Salt doesn't have to try to be salty, a light doesn't have to strive to give light and a good tree doesn't have to strive to bear good fruit.
If you become a person who isn't angry and doesn't hold people in contempt, it won't have to strive to avoid murder!
Jesus teaching about character is Inside Out
In the presences of Jesus, first deal with Anger and contempt (5:21-26); then lust (5:27-30).
[Note: Jesus uses vivid language about gouging out eyes and cutting off hands to highlight the seriousness with which we need to deal with issues of anger/contempt/lust. Gouging out your right eye will not stop you being lustful while looking through your left eye. Only removing anger and lust from your heart will stop you lusting and being angry!]
Then deal with integrity by keeping your marriage vows, and refusing to verbally manipulate people - for example taking oaths to try and convince people (5:31-37)
Then get rid of revenge taking (5:38-42)
As we make progress in these steps we will find it easier to love our enemies (5:43-47)!
A great temptation with Character is to settle for a veneer - what matters is that others think I am generous and spiritual (praying and fasting). So Jesus teaches we need to give up 'looking good' in front of people and focus on our secret life with God (Matt 6:1-18). In this context Jesus teaches the Lord's prayer with a particular emphasis on forgiving others.
Anxiety and Worry can be big parts of life and they usually revolve around money, security, sustenance and appearance. So Jesus teaches us to focus on storing up heavenly treasures (again the upside down kingdom), looking to God not money, seeking God's reign and his sort of righteousness, and trusting God to provide everything else (Matt 6:19-34)
When we are making progress in all these areas, then we are going to be faced with the temptation to point out everyone else's failings and trying to force our own advice on them even if they don't want it. So Jesus teaches us to not judge others and to worry about the planks in our own eyes rather than the specs in other's eyes (in other words, remember that we still have a long way to go). (Matt 7:1-6)
Jesus concludes the sermon with some key points:
The Kingdom of God works by asking, seeking, knocking and trusting the goodness of God
You just can't take any old road to have a life with an eternal quality
Look for teachers who are living what they are teaching
Focus on an interactive relationship with God rather than performing miracles and making prophetic pronouncements.
AND FINALLY - None of this teaching will do you any good unless you actually act on it!!!! But if you do, you can become a person who lives through all the storms of life.
REMEMBER: this teaching is given in the context of people encountering Jesus. This Jesus healed the sick, proclaimed good news, included people from all backgrounds, and exuded an internal authority that continually amazed people who met him. In this teaching Jesus has given us a road map to having more of the internal sort of life that He had. As people who are disciples of Jesus and know he is with us (Matt 28:20), it is worthwhile returning to this teaching again and and again as we continue our journey of growing into the Character of Christ.
photo credit: house upside down
via photopin (license)
David Wanstall, 19/01/2016