To me, the first mission of the church is to live the Sermon on the Mount with each other, for each other, among each other. The Kingdom is where God reigns, where his will is done on earth as it is in heaven. And that has to start among his people, in his Kingdom. I mean, how can we pray the Lord’s Prayer and not then seek to live the Sermon on the Mountain (SOTM)?
I’ve started a series on the SOTM not too long ago. I’m not going to attempt a detailed exposition here. Just a few points, and then we’re done.
1. The Beatitudes are not be-attitudes. They describe people who should celebrate the coming of the Kingdom. The coming of the Kingdom means that, for example, the prophecies that promised the earth to the meek are coming true. Therefore, the Beatitudes are really more about what the Kingdom is going to be than what we need to become. But, of course, if we look at our churches and we aren’t blessing the poor in the spirit, the meek, the mourning, etc., well, we’ve messed up. Our church is not being true to the Kingdom ideals it was founded for.
We should ask ourselves whether we’re a blessing to peacemakers — or whether we get in their way. Do we create an atmosphere where the merciful find themselves — at long last — at home? Do we provide sustenance for those who hunger and thirst after righteousness? Or do we starve such people? Do we interfere with God’s shalom or bring it with us? Do we honor the merciful or treat them as odd ducks who don’t really understand the world?
The New Testament church, the Lord’s church, a sound congregation, would be filled with such people, not because the church taught people to be this way (although they would do that, too), but because Beatitudes people would feel welcome, at home, encouraged, beloved, and affirmed in such a church.
2. Jesus’ famous declaration that we are salt and light is also often abused.
(Matt. 5:13-16 ESV) 13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
The statement is “you are” not “you need to become.” The church is the light God has chosen to shine on the world. If we don’t shine for him, he has no other salt or light.
He assumes that we do “good works” and then he commands that we do them — these good works we’re already doing — in such a way that those who see our good works will honor God. They won’t know why we’re doing them unless we tell them.
But we have to avoid the temptation to use people as tools of our Jesus-marking campaign. We serve others because we love them — even if they refuse to be converted, even if others aren’t impressed by our goodness. It’s the love that drives our behavior — or else we’re not like Jesus — and that, ironically enough, makes the good works salt and light.
So what are “good works”? Christopher Wright finds guidance in the Lord’s Prayer —
Experience of redemption must generate redemptive living. This is the missional outflow of what God has done for us. The mission of God’s people has such intensely practical dimensions.
It is not that we can earn forgiveness by being forgiving. It is rather that our experience of God’s great mercy should make us merciful people.…
The experience of grace transforms us into gracious people. It is not just about inter-personal conflict. It is about how we treat other people. It is about economic generosity. While God forgives our sins, we forgive our debtors. Luke could have used the word “sin” in both cases, but he chose to highlight the economic implications of Jesus’ words.…
In the Old Testament Year of Jubilee debts were forgiven and slaves were set free as the people celebrated God’s grace to them in providing atonement (see Lev. 25 and Deut. 15). Now the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world has come. In the light of God’s forgiveness, a new era of economic and social relations has begun among those forgiven and set free by Christ’s death. The followers of Jesus are to live as both recipients of, and participants in, a permanent jubilee.
— Tim Chester
The principle of reflecting our experience of God’s redeeming grace in how we live and especially in our treatment of others is found throughout the New Testament.
Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission, Biblical Theology for Life, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 108.
“Good works” refers to living like Jesus, extending to others the grace and mercy we’ve received, yearning for peace and extending the peace that comes from Jesus — and so honoring those who live as peacemakers. Forgiving as we’ve been forgiven. Refusing to instrumentalize (use) others for our ends, even good ends. Refusing to objectivize others. Treating people with the dignity God has given them even they’ve not the same for themselves.
I skip some of my other favorite parts to get to —
(Matt. 5:21-22 ESV) 21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
Growing up, this meant that if I called my brother “fool!” I got a whipping. So I used “idiot” instead. But that, of course, entirely missed Jesus’ point.
We are not to make people into objects by our language. Women are not sex objects but daughters of God and entitled to the dignity this implies. Children are not annoyances but beloved of Jesus for their very childlikeness.
When we treat our opponents — religious or political — as properly labeled and dismissed, we’ve violated this command. When we dehumanize others through labels, God sees us as murderers. Feminists are not “femi-Nazis.” We may disagree with them, but we can’t dehumanize them — which forces us to listen to them. We don’t have to agree, but we cannot simply label and dismiss.
It’s noteworthy that in times of war, we always make up a name for the enemy. It’s much easier to kill a “raghead” than a “Nestorian Christian unwillingly drafted into the enemy’s army.” And I think this is much of Jesus’ point. And we’re just as wrong when we toss around such epithets as “Anti,” “liberal,” “change agent,” or any other term meant to reduce the dignity and value of the other person.
(Matt. 5:40-42 ESV) 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
If I’m supposed to do this for my enemy — a Roman soldier, for example — then surely I should do this much for my home congregation. Volunteer. Participate. Give generously of myself.