As you can appreciate in preparation for the new study series that begins next week I’ve begun reading the Sermon on the Mount. I am big on not missing out on the big picture and the connected nature of all the pieces in the puzzle when we start segmenting scripture for teaching purposes.
It is crucial to see Jesus after His Beatitudes making it clear that He’s not here to abolish the law but fulfil it and then proceeding to state the primacy of the law and the importance of living righteously beyond a religious definition of it. To say that if your righteousness doesn’t exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees doesn’t mean that the Kingdom values are easy. On the contrary His outline will allow us to see how much we depend on God to be able to live up to them hence the Beatitudes themselves which depict a people desperately dependent on God to be able to enjoy life in His Kingdom according to His rule.
To prove just how exacting the standard the is for the rest of Matt 5 and into half of Matt 6 Jesus shows how the gist of the law wasn’t to monitor behaviour but to reveal the state of the heart that is towards God. The arresting point for me in my recent reading was the bit where Jesus says if your right hand causes you to sin cut it off and if your right eye causes you to sin gouge it out as it would be better to be a one-eyed, one-armed Kingdom-dweller than a full-bodied hell-dweller. The deal here though is not the physical act that’s being suggested – although in mentioning it Jesus shows how seriously we are to take sin.
What we would have missed out on though is the source of the sin – the heart. In essence Jesus is saying take radical action from the heart to deal with issues that can cause you to sin and that means heart surgery – indeed a heart transplant. My contention is, and reality reflects I believe, that just because you get rid of an external stimulus doesn’t mean the heart has been dealt with at all. The issue needs to be exposed to the light of the love of God even as we mourn over our inability to please God and its resultant sinful condition of the planet. That mournful approach has a desire to see God impact the world with His original plan. That takes place personally with a heart towards God that is about radical approach to that which the world rejoices in. So it’s not just about stopping pornography and blatant adultery but to develop a devout hatred for anything that would promote lust and develop that faithful, monogamous capacity within us that means because we can love God with all, so we can love with purity those who come in our lives.
This fits in with the gist of what Jesus is saying in this portion of his teaching – it’s an issue of the heart when it comes to the law, when it comes to the spiritual disciplines, when it comes to the fundamental basic issues of life – it is about the state of our heart and who we commit that heart to.
Speaking of teaching, one thing I find fascinating is our tendency to call this section the Sermon on the Mount when the beginning and end of the talk seems to indicate that this is Jesus teaching. Not only that but in the larger context of what Jesus would commission His disciples to do at the end of this gospel account it is pretty important that any true follower of Christ digests this teaching.
Even near the top of his teaching he states clearly that people who relax the observance of the law AND teaches others that is considered the least and it is those who practice it AND teach it who will be considered the greatest in the Kingdom. That is to say not only in the great commission but in the great teaching there is an expectation on ALL FOLLOWERS to live it AND teach it. This fits well with the concept of the book of Matthew being about Jesus the great Rabbi.
This should immediately challenge some of the current expressions of church that in no way prepares disciples to teach disciples, but promotes a thinking to say there’s a class of people who can teach – the gifted as it were – and the rest are to learn from these. It should be a shot in the arm for all teachers that in the spiritual sense of things you are only as successful a teacher as you are in encouraging and enabling others to live and teach that which you live and teach.
That should stretch our understanding and definition of teaching to incorporate ways in which people teach that is not straight talking business but far wider, but no less intentional – we are not doing this by accident or by osmosis, this is something deliberate and understood by all parties even as those who followed Jesus knew what they were getting themselves in for in terms of being followers.
Lots of food for thought in considering this issue, food which I hope to share further as I delve further in this wonderful work.
For His Name's Sake