Christ said his teachings are the Cornerstone on which to build our faith, but that the religious builders would reject his teachings.
How many of Christ’s commands can you remember? A general ignorance of what he actually tells his followers to do illustrates just how successful these religious builders have been.
Millions of people call Christ “Lord,” but refuse to obey his commands. They say they can take his name, ask his Spirit into their hearts, and believe in his divinity without any regard for his instructions to those who say they are his disciples.
This booklet looks at what Christ taught, in his famous “Sermon on the Mount,” and compares it to what is being taught in his name in today’s religious world.
Learning To Lead
“And seeing the multitudes, he went up a mountain; and his disciples came unto him” (Matthew 5:1).
Only disciples are willing to climb mountains. So when Christ wanted to separate those who were genuine about following him, from the lukewarm crowds, he would simply climb a mountain, or impose some other discipline. In the modern church, however, everything is measured in numbers. Masses have become the opiate of religion! Multitude mania grips the church, while the disciplines of Christ are set aside as too unpopular.
“And he opened his mouth, and taught them saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit:for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (5:2-3).
“Blessed are you poor people, but woe to you rich people” (Luke 6:20-24). The poor of this world will inherit the kingdom of heaven because they are rich in faith; but rich men blaspheme Christ by condemning the poor (James 2:5-7). Who dares to preach this today? The prosperity gospel of the Western church preaches exactly the opposite. It praises capitalism (the love of capital) while the Bible calls covetousness (the love of money) idolatry (Col. 3:5), or the ultimate abomination. Christ’s first requirement for a would-be Christian is to “give up all your possessions” (Luke 14:33). If you can’t do this, he says you should not begin to call yourself a Christian (Luke 14:29).
“Blessed are they that mourn:for they shall be comforted” (5:4).
First we give our wealth to God; then we give our families to him. It is better to mourn the loss of our families for God, and to have the comfort of Christ, than to try to keep something we will lose one day anyway. A missionary who was killed by Indians in Ecuador said, “It is wise to give what you cannot keep to gain what you cannot lose.” Jesus promised to divide families (Matthew 10:35-37), and he rejected his own family when they refused to accept God’s will (Luke 8:20-21, John 7:5). He knew that God’s family must be first.
“Blessed are the meek:for they shall inherit the earth (5:5).”
When you pass the material and emotional tests, the next test is physical. After Satan failed to destroy Job’s faith by taking his wealth and family, he attacked his “skin” (Job 2:4-5). The word “meek” comes from a word for a horse that has been broken, so that he will work obediently for his master. We too need to be broken, so that we will not give in to the laziness of our flesh, or the fear of pain that comes when Christ tells us to turn the other cheek, or to lay down our lives for one another (I John 3:16). Meekness may mean suffering, torture or death, or it may mean giving our time to others. In both cases, we are giving our lives.
“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled” (5:6).
When your wealth and family are gone, and your flesh is broken, there is not much you can do except hunger and thirst for something better. You have nothing left to keep. “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (I Cor. 15:26). When we want God more than life itself, we begin to fight the “last enemy.”
Until we find something worth dying for, we do not have anything worth living for ( Lk. 17 :33). Despair is more than a willingness to die; it is almost a desire to die. It is the last step down before the big climb up.
Big spiritual battles can only be won by prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29). Most of us never get around to fasting because we’re not really desperate. When we do get desperate, God will come to fill us with his righteousness.
“Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy ” (5:7).
God’s righteousness comes first through forgiveness. And this is always more readily available to those who know what it is to forgive others.
Being merciful does not buy forgiveness; but it is a quality in those people whom God chooses to give mercy to. “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy,” says God.
Some people could almost be called Christian before they ever heard of Christ. Though lost, they are already “sheep”–like the Good Samaritan. These are the poor, the mourners, the meek, and those who hunger for righteousness. They could come from any country or any religion; their theology is not as important as their sincere desire for truth. Saving them is as easy as telling them that they have already been forgiven through Christ’s sacrificial death.
“Blessed are the pure in heart:for they shall see God” (5:8).
Forgiveness leads to holiness. Holy means “set apart.” Jews set apart one day each week for God. On this day they rested from their labours. It was called the Sabbath (or rest) day. But Jesus taught seven-days-a-week rest, and seven-days-a-week holiness (Lk 16:13; Mt 11:28; Jn 6:27). He gives us a new job, working for him, and we are to “labour to enter into that rest” (Hebrews 4:11).
Because the early Christians lived only by faith, it set them apart from the rest of the world. “We know that when Jesus shall appear, we shall see him as he is. Every man who has this hope purifies himself, even as He is pure” (I Jn 3:1-3). Seek holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). But you cannot be pure in heart if you are trying to serve two masters (James 1:8).
“Blessed are the peacemakers:for they shall be called the children of God” (5:9).
Peace does not just happen. It must be made. To be a true peacemaker we must share the peace Christ offers (II Cor 5:18). “Follow peace with all men” (Hebrews 12:14). “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16:15).
The parable of the Sower is about evangelism. In it, one group of people accept all that the Sower offers, but do not share it with others. “When they have heard, they go forth and are choked with cares and pleasures” (Lk 8:14). Jobs, building funds, and church socials keep the church from giving God’s peace to this war-torn world. Jesus might say that many churchgoers are of their father, the devil! (Jn 8:44). For God’s children are peacemakers. They do not have time for other occupations; for they walk worthy of the vocation to which they have been called. (Eph 4:1).
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake:for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”.
“Blessed are you, when men insult you, and persecute you and say all manner of evil lies against you, for my sake. Rejoice, and be glad:for great is your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (5:10-12).
Forgiveness leads to holiness; holiness leads to evangelism; and evangelism leads to persecution. We cannot alter this pattern. It is programmed into the first seeds of the gospel that we preach. If we are not persecuted, we are not following Christ… for “All who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (II Timothy 3:12). If there is more religious persecution in Russia than in Australia, it is only because there is more Christianity there. Many churchgoers make heroes of earlier prophets while attacking present-day critics of the church (Mt 23:29-38). Everyone wants an easy way to witness, so they won’t be criticised or persecuted; but when we can accept that persecution is inevitable, and even rejoice about it, we will get on with the job.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt has lost its saltiness, there is no way to make it salty again. It is good for nothing but to be thrown out, and to be trodden under foot”.
“You are the light of the world. A city that is on an hill cannot be hidden.
“Neither does one light a candle, and put it under a bowl, but on a candlestick; and it gives light for everyone in the house”.
“Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and praise your Father in heaven” (Mt 5;13-16).
The salt has lost its saltiness. Paul says, “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt” (Col 4:6). But where is the salt in today’s bland diet of religious fellowship and respectability? If you take the teachings of Christ out of Christianity (which is just what the organised churches have done) you have a false Christ, and false gospel. “If the salt loses its sting, it’s not fit for shi… cah-cah!” (Lk 14:34-35).
Paul was very religious before he accepted what Christ taught. But after his conversion, he said his old religious pride was just a heap of shi… poo-poo! (Philippians 3:4-8) The church today is more upset by the language Jesus used, than by its own lukewarmness. But Christ says, “Look at you! I want to spue!” (Revelation 3:6)
The light of the gospel has been hidden under a bushel of respectability for too long. If you are ashamed of Christ’s words, then he promises to be ashamed of you (Mk 8:38).
We are trying to put the light back up where it belongs, but we need your help. “Don’t you know that everyone runs in a race, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it!” (I Cor 9:24). Don’t wait for someone else to set the pace. Now more than before, the world needs leaders. We can be that, by living our lives as though only one person will be found faithful to Christ’s teachings and we want to be that person. “When the son of man comes will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8). The reply is up to you. You can be salt and light for the world or you can become part of the world’s dung heap.
The Law Of Love
“Think not that I have come to do away with the Law of Moses, or the teachings of the prophets:I have not come to destroy, but to fulfill (5:17).”
Critics of the church are usually considered enemies. But this is often not true.
The establishment saw Christ’s improvements to the Jewish Old Testament as destruction. True, when a contract is fulfilled, it loses its value; but fulfillment is what the contract is all about. Total love for God and others is the fulfillment of the law (Mt 22:37-40).
“Remember that until heaven and earth pass, not one detail of the Law shall be done away with, till all be fulfilled.
“Whoever therefore breaks even one of the least important commandments, and teaches others to do so, will be the least in the kingdom of heaven:but whoever obeys and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (5:18-19).
Christ’s commands fulfill the old commandments. So, do and teach his commandments and you fulfill the requirements of both the Old and the New Testaments.
Modern theology dismisses the commands of Christ as unimportant, saying that anyone who seeks to obey Christ is trying to work his way to heaven. This perverts what Paul taught about grace. Paul wrote about “things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable twist”…(II Peter 3:16). Paul warned about using his teachings as “an occasion to the flesh” (Gal 5:13), and yet religious leaders still claim we are free to disobey Christ, at the same time that they preach submission to the disciplines of their denominations. Peter and Jude said of such men, “Certain ungodly men turn the grace of our God into slackness; while they promise liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption” (II Peter 2:19; Jude 4).
“For unless you are more faithful in doing what God requires than the teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (5:20).
Religious zealots appear to be very righteous but they major on all the minor issues. They are big on things like going to church and social customs, but when it comes to love, they are sadly deficient. It doesn’t take much to outlove Mr. Average Churchgoer!
“You have heard it was said in the past, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be brought to trial. But I say to you, that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgement:and whoever says to his brother ‘You good-for-nothing!’ shall be brought before the Council:but whoever says ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of the fire of hell” (5:21-22).
Most of us can say we have never killed anyone, but who can say he has never hated? Any desire to hurt or belittle someone comes from the same source that inspires murderers.
Words of condemnation can do great damage whereas words of love can work miracles. The Church constantly reminds people outside its walls that they are sinners. But this is a cruel half-truth. People inside are told that they are forgiven sinners, and they often show dramatic behaviour changes in response to the acceptance they receive from members of the group. Imagine what could be achieved if Christians treated everyone they met in the secular world in the same way! After all, Jesus never said we had to go to church to be forgiven! It is our job to tell everyone that they are forgiven; it is up to them to accept it.
“Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you; leave your gift before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come back and offer your gift” (5:23-24).
God is more concerned with human relationships than with religious meetings; yet differences are rarely talked out in today’s church world. Anyone who disagrees is told to go elsewhere and not upset the smooth running of the meeting.
“If someone brings a lawsuit against you and takes you to court, settle the dispute quickly before you get to court. Once you are there, you will be handed over to the judge, who will hand you over to the police, and you will be put in jail. There you will stay until you pay the last cent of your fine” (5:25-26).
The world has some strong charges to make against the church, but most churchmen smugly dismiss them with cop-outs like, “We never said we were perfect.”
“You have heard it said, Do not commit adultery. But I say to you that anyone who looks at a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her in his hear (5:27-28).
Many churches have gone soft on sexual morality, for fear of losing members. But Jesus knew that discipline is a big part of love. Don’t try to excuse immorality through some twisted doctrine of grace, used as an “occasion to the flesh (Galatians 5:13).”
‘And if your right eye causes you to sin, take it out and throw it away! It is much better for you to lose a part of your body than to have your whole body thrown into hell. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away! It is much better for you to lose one of your limbs than to have your whole body go to hell” (5:29-30).
This passage is often quoted to prove the folly of taking Christ literally. But surely the passage says just the opposite. It is foolish NOT to take Christ literally… even if it means cutting your hand off! If we took this and other teachings of Christ more seriously, we would not be facing an eternity in which to wish we had… as is very likely the case at the moment.
“It has been said, Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a written notice of divorce. But I say to you, that if a man divorces his wife for any cause other than unfaithfulness, he is guilty of making her commit adultery if she marries again; and the man who marries her commits adultery also” (5:31-32).
This slack approach to discipline can be directly linked to the dramatic increase in divorce rates in the western world. If you want a separation, just shed a few tears and you will find a sympathetic shoulder in almost any clergyman. And when you get lonely, the same clergyman will feel sorry for you and say you may remarry. They use two popular excuses to ignore what Christ says on the subject of divorce and remarriage:(1) The “innocent” party may remarry. But if neither party has committed adultery, then, by this approach, both parties are “innocent!” Matthew 19:9 says that if they have not committed adultery before they remarry then they have afterwards. (2) A divorce that took place before conversion does not count. Yet Christ commands, “Let not the wife depart from her husband. But if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband” (I Cor 7:10-11). If separation is unavoidable remarriage is not. See Lk 14:26 and I Cor 7:29.
“You have also heard it said, Do not break your promise but do what you have vowed to do. But I say to you, do not make promises. Do not swear by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Do not even swear by your head, because you cannot make a single hair white or black. Just say Yes or No – anything more than this comes of evil” (5:33-37).
Indebtedness is a great hindrance to love, for it forges legal chains and causes a spiritual drain on the soul. When you sign a contract, you swear by all that you possess that you will repay that debt. Debts are a loan on the future. James 4:13-14 says “You ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall do this or that.’ ” We have no right to obligate ourselves for the future any further than our word as Christians, with God’s okay, will carry us. “Owe no man anything, except to love one another” (Rom 13:8).
“You have heard it said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek let them slap your left cheek too” (5:38-39).
Justice says crime should be punished. Mercy says the victim may choose to bear the punishment of his attacker.
“Christ died for our sin” (I Cor 15:1-4). “And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (I Jn 3:16). When we turn the other cheek, we present our bodies as a living example of Christ’s love.
“And if anyone sues you and takes your shirt, let him have your coat as well” (5:40).
Just as we can present our bodies as living examples of God’s mercy (Rom 12:1), so we can also present our possessions (I Jn 3:17). If Christians would stop fighting over money, half the workload of the courts would disappear overnight.
“And whoever forces you to go a mile, go with him two.
By law, any Roman soldier could require a citizen to carry his pack for one mile. But loves goes beyond what the law requires. There are no half measures with love; it is all or nothing.
“When someone asks you for something, give it to him; and when someone wants to borrow something, lend it to him” (5:42).
The value in giving is not so much what it will do for the one who receives, as it is in what it will do for the giver. There are always excuses (eg. “They’ll only waste it.”) but Jesus leaves no room for such excuses here.
“You have heard it said, Love your neighbour, and hate your enemy. But I say, Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who use you” (5:43-44)
The strategy the church always seems to use when dealing with critics is to snub them, to slander them, or to expel them. When will we discover the power of love to end quarrels? “Bless them that persecute you… if your enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head. Do not let evil overcome you. Overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:14-21).
“That you may be the children of your Father in heaven:for he makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (5:45).
Everyone wants to claim to be the “King’s kids,” but few are ready to endure the disciplines that go with such a title. Some royal family members travel the world as full-time ambassadors for their country; and the King of kings expects even greater discipline from his children.
“Why should God reward you if you love only the people who love you? Even the tax collectors do that! And if you speak only to your friends, have you done anything out of the ordinary? Even the pagans do that!” (5:45-46)
It is easy to love people who belong to our group. All groups do that. But true love goes beyond the organisation. Some would boast that they have learnt to love people from other denominations even. But true love does not stop there either. Who are our worst enemies? Are we prepared to meet those who hate us with open arms, as Christ did?
“Therefore, be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect (5:48).”
The perfection Jesus teaches is perfect (or “mature”) love. (I Cor 13:4-10) It may not be easy all the time, but if Jesus teaches that love involves discipline (and this Sermon contains plenty of that), then any so-called “love” that refuses to strive for this is imperfect, immature, and not true love at all.
The love of Christ is the perfect fulfilment of the law!
“Be careful that you do not do your alms before men, to be seen of them. Otherwise, you have no reward from your Father in heaven (6:1).”
Handouts to the poor can be good business if you let the right people know what you are doing. Most churches put much more into advertising their goodness to potential contributors, than they do in advertising the services they have available to the people who might need them. They seem ignorant of the fact that God forbids this kind of self-praise.
“Therefore when you do your alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward” (6:2).
Much fund raising exploits people’s pride. Offerings or collections shame most people into giving at least a little. Children are often urged to make competitions out of fund-raising. Public pledges are so popular that the secular world has adapted them to telethons and other charity appeals. For a large donation, you can get your name on a plaque or window in a church and a smaller gift can get your name on the flyleaf of a hymnal. These donors are buying publicity and goodwill. “They have their reward,” and should not expect anything from God.
“But when you do alms, let not your left hand know what your right hand does:that your alms may be in secret:and your Father who sees what you do in secret shall reward you openly” (6:3-4).
Jesus never told us to be fund-raisers. True charity is a personal thing, not an organisational competition for our financial support. No accounts, no bookkeeping, no calculations. If you see a need then do something… personally. If others are following Jesus they will be doing similar things. If not, then pressuring them will only encourage more hypocrisy. Organised charities are often cop-outs from personal responsibility.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites! They love to stand up and pray in the houses of worship and on the street corners, so that everyone will see them. I assure you, they already have their reward” (6:5).
People who like to pray publicly in church or elsewhere are hypocrites! What church dares to teach that? Be honest… you cannot give your full attention to God if you know others are listening to your prayer, and probably assessing you spiritually on the basis of it. The man who prays out loud in church prays only “with himself “(Lk 18:9-11). Jesus called such religious showmen “damned hypocrites” who “for a pretence make long prayers” (Mt 23:14). “All their works they do to be seen of men. They love the uppermost rooms at feasts and the chief seats in the synagogues (Mt 23:5-6).”
“But when you pray, go to your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you” (6:6).
“Pray without ceasing” (I Thess 5:17). Prayer is a relationship, not a ritual. Intense prayer is like lovemaking. Christ is the groom (Jn 3:28-29; Lk 5:34-35; Mt 25:1) and you are the bride (Rev 21:2,9). It is a perversion of this sacred relationship to make prayer into a public spectacle.
The same problem arises with regard to speaking in “tongues.” This experience is very helpful in our private love life with God (I Cor 14:2-4), but it is not proof of spiritual superiority. People who ask, “Do you speak in tongues?” need to be asked in reply, “How often do you have sex?” Both issues are very private.
“But when you pray, do not use a lot of meaningless words, as the pagans do, who think that their gods will hear them because their prayers are long. Your Father knows what you need, before you ask him” (6:7-8).
Catholics reciting Our Fathers as penance are being trained to think of prayer as painful and meaningless. Prayer books and other recitations have much the same effect. If you choose to memorise something, concentrate on the meaning of the passage and not just the words in it. “God” is just repetitious religion to many people, so they reject him. But real communication with God can be a great comfort. Prayer, like good food, is only distasteful when it is crammed down your throat.
“This is how you should pray:Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored” (6:9)
The “Lord’s Prayer” is not a magic recitation. The words here differ from those in Luke 11:2-4, but the meaning is the same. Jesus merely summarises the attitudes that will mark a healthy relationship between God and man. First, we should respect God as we would our fathers.
“Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven (6:10).”
Then we should be eager to know God’s will. Listening is the most important part of our relationship with God, for that is how we learn what his will is.
“Give us today the food we need” (6:11).
Requests for material needs are the most popular form of prayer; but Paul tells us to be happy with daily food (I Tim 6:8). Most of us could go a whole lifetime without ever even needing to say this part of the prayer, because we wake up every morning with more than enough wealth to feed ourselves that day and many more.
“And forgive us our wrongs, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us” (6:12).
A continual recognition of our need for God’s forgiveness will lead to a continual willingness to show mercy towards others. Gandhi once said, “All prayer is a confession of one’s own unworthiness and weakness.”
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever” (6:13).
Our desire should be to stay as far away from evil as possible. God will help us to do this. And we should continually give God the praise for all that he does for us. “He that glories, let him glory in the Lord” (I Cor 1:31).
“For if you forgive others the wrongs they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done” (6:14-15).
This is the third time this thought has been expressed in this Sermon (see also 5:7 and 6:12). Our whole relationship with God centers around learning to love (or forgive) and learning to accept love (or forgiveness) (Mt 22:37-40). If we do not learn this, then all of our religion is useless, for “he who loves not knows not God, for God is love” (I Jn 4:8).
“Moreover when you fast do not put on a sad face as the hypocrites do. They neglect their appearance so that every one will see that they are fasting. They already have their reward. When you fast, wash your face and comb your hair, so others cannot know you are fasting- only your Father, who is unseen, will know. And your Father, who sees what you do in secret, will reward you openly” (6:16-18).
Fasting, too, can become a religious abomination if we are not careful. The motive is all-important. When it is just for self-denial, there is a great temptation to let people know we are on a fast. But it need not be painful. Jesus fasted for 40 days and wasn’t even hungry until afterwards (Mt 4:2). An artist or writer might easily miss meals when deeply involved in creative work. People in love often lose their appetites because they are distracted by thoughts of each other. But these people do not talk about their fasting; they only talk about the object of their love.
“Is not this the fast that I have chosen?” asks God. “To deal your bread to the hungry, and that you bring the poor that are cast out to your house?” (Isaiah 58:3-12)
From this, Christ goes into the central topic of this whole sermon– the topic of a Christian’s relationship to material possessions.