The Fatal Failures of Religion: #1 Secularism (Matthew 5:1-16)
Several years ago Joseph Lupo, a Roman Catholic priest, did a market study which resulted in his placing a full-page ad for priests in the East Coast edition of Playboy Magazine. More than 600 young men responded, and at least 28 of these tested out as likely candidates for the priesthood. In previous years, the best he could hope for was as many as 10. The public response to his approach was also enlightening. Compliments outran complaints 7 to 1. But he was not troubled by the critics anyway. The main thing is, he got results.
Lest we be too quick to criticize, let me suggest that we who would be called fundamental, evangelical Protestants are guilty of the same kind of approach to Christian ministry. We package and promote Christianity no differently than Madison Avenue sells toothpaste or deodorant. We run our churches in such a way that if God had died 20 years ago, no one would have yet discovered it.
The evil of which I am speaking is called secularism. Christians are guilty of secularism when they think and act like the world about them. We fall into the evil of secularism when we attempt to go about doing the work of God in the world’s way. We have succumbed to secularism when we adopt the same attitudes, values, and goals as those who do not know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. It is to this matter of secularism that our Lord first directs His attention in the Sermon on the Mount.
A Broader Look at the Sermon on the Mount
Before we plunge into our Lord’s teaching on secularism, we need to deal with the interpretation and application of the Sermon on the Mount to us in the 20th century. Before we begin to interpret it or to make application, we must answer two questions: (1) What is the Sermon on the Mount? (2) How should it be interpreted?
What Is the Sermon on the Mount?
The occasion of the sermon is described by Matthew.227 John the Baptist had recently been arrested (4:12). Jesus had withdrawn from Galilee and established His headquarters in Capernaum (4:12,13). From this time on, Jesus preached openly concerning the Kingdom of God228 (4:17,23-25). After spending the night in prayer, our Lord called the twelve to be His apostles (Luke 6:12,13; cp. Matthew 4:18-22).
The circumstances of this sermon would imply that our Lord’s teaching was directed to those who would truly be His disciples. Our Lord sat down to teach, assuming the authoritative posture characteristic of the Rabbis of His day. When our Lord taught, He taught as one qualified to interpret the Old Testament Scriptures. Several features of the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount emerge from these three chapters:
(1) The Sermon on the Mount was a concentration of the teaching of Jesus during His life and ministry. While Matthew and Luke both clearly state that this was a sermon preached on a certain occasion, it is possible that it could have extended over a period of several days, the topic of a kind of retreat.229 Having concluded that this was really a sermon (albeit a lengthy one), we must go on to say that this sermon presents us with a kind of distillation of our Lord’s teaching. Barclay has shown how the themes of this sermon (from Matthew’s account) are taken up through the entire account of Luke.230 Many of the major themes of our Lord’s teaching are found in this one sermon.
(2) The sermon is a clarification of the teaching of our Lord on the Kingdom which He would establish. Jesus had come forth taking up the theme of John the Baptist and proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 4:17-23). There were many exaggerated and erroneous conceptions of what this kingdom would be. Our Lord, in this sermon, clarified His teaching on this subject to those who would be His disciples.
(3) The Sermon on the Mount contrasts the true religion of Jesus with the false religions of paganism, and especially of contemporary Judaism. Perhaps the key verse of the entire sermon is Matthew 5:20, where Jesus said, “For I say unto you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
The beatitudes describe the character of one who is truly righteous and who will experience the Millennial reign of Christ. It is a stark contrast with the character of the scribes and Pharisees. The teaching of our Lord and His interpretation of the Old Testament scriptures was radically different from Jewish traditions and the teachings of the Rabbis.231
(4) The Sermon on the Mount was a word of comfort and consolation to the faithful remnant within Israel. Those who were listening to this sermon were representatives of those within Israel who were true God-seekers and worshippers. While there is severe condemnation for the Jewish leaders, there is commendation and consolation to those who awaited ‘the consolation of Israel’ (cf. Luke 2:25). The first words of our Lord in this sermon are “Blessed are …”
How Should It Be Interpreted?
I find it most interesting to consider the variety of ways that people have of interpreting and applying this best known sermon of our Lord. Strangely enough, it is the unbeliever who seems to apply it personally, while many Christians try to avoid its teaching.232
The unbeliever is often heard to say, “I try to live by the Sermon on the Mount.”
This seems to mean something like, “I try to live by the golden rule.” I doubt that most of those who say such things have even read the Sermon on the Mount through. Surely they would not set such high standards for themselves.
Liberal Christianity also makes much of the Sermon on the Mount. They look upon Christ’s words as the model for the ideal society. They long for and strive to establish the perfect society which can bring such conditions to pass.
Others view the sermon as a description of the kind of works one must strive to produce in order to attain to eternal life. The error here is that those who are called blessed by our Lord are assumed to be true believers. Their works are the result of God’s grace, and not the means of their earning God’s eternal salvation. As Dr. S. Lewis Johnson has said, when Paul was asked by the Philippian jailer, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Paul did not respond, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.”233
In my opinion, the gospel is not given in this sermon for two primary reasons. First, our Lord was speaking to those who were a part of the righteous remnant. These were those who looked for God’s salvation through His Messiah. Second, Christ’s atoning work on the cross of Calvary was still future. Until this was accomplished, what more could our Lord say than that which was already spoken by the Old Testament writers (and believed by His audience)?
Some Christians have interpreted this sermon as applying directly to the church, ignoring the completely Jewish context in which it was delivered. Others have virtually set the entire sermon aside by dispensationalizing it. They believe that it was given as a kind of constitution for the Kingdom. Since it gives to Israel the Law of the Kingdom, we in the church age (they tell us) are not under its requirements. This view fails to come to grips with the fact that our Lord spoke of the Kingdom as yet future (“they shall inherit the earth,” Matthew 5:5), and that the present experience of those addressed would include persecution and rejection.
The bottom line, I believe, is that we do not wish to subject ourselves to Christ’s teaching. ‘Turning the other cheek’ is not what the old nature desires to do. I can remember one of my professors saying of Matthew 5:42 (“Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.”): “If a businessman were to follow this instruction today, he would go broke.”234
I would say several things in response to the dispensational type of evasion. First, God has called us to live a daring and impossible kind of life which necessitates faith in the kind of God Who does the impossible. The life of faith is unreasonable to the man of the world. Second, while this sermon was preached to the Jews, it has application for every Christian. If I am correct in assuming that the church is to reflect the kingdom of God in miniature, then we must take this sermon seriously. Finally, we should never interpret and apply any one verse apart from the teaching of other Scripture. We cannot take the promise that if any two agree on a certain thing in prayer, we will have it (Matthew 18:19) in isolation, without considering all that the Scripture teaches about prayer. So also, we cannot take one verse in the Sermon on the Mount, interpret and apply it in isolation. Scripture always interprets Scripture.
While the Sermon on the Mount was addressed to Jews, it also speaks to Christians today. It tells us what our attitudes and actions should be. It challenges us to live an excitingly distinctive life, adding a savor to our society. It warns us of the evils of false religion which creep into Christian theology and practice. It instructs us as to how we should interpret and apply the Old Testament Scriptures. It places before us the measure of a man or woman of God.
The Relationship of the Believer to God and Man
The Ten Commandments prescribed Israel’s relationship to their God and also their relationship to their fellow man. Our Lord could thus summarize the commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind … and … you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37,39).
Likewise, in the beatitudes, our Lord gives us a description or characterization of the true believer in terms of his relationship to both God and man. Each beatitude is to characterize every true believer. Every beatitude is in striking contrast to the character and conduct of the scribes and Pharisees.
You will notice that each ascription is accompanied by the expression ‘blessed.’ Although this term can legitimately be translated (and J. B. Phillips does so) this is surely the wrong sense here. Happiness implies a rather fleeting feeling that usually is dependent upon favorable circumstances. The Greek word (markarios) was used to describe the celestial bliss of the gods, a life free from the work and worries of the world. Used of men, initially, it suggested the same kind of bliss, of being removed from the cares of life. Thus it was used of the dead who were thought to have passed to a better existence. More to the point, here ‘blessed’ refers to the blessing and joy of a man who is self-contained, independent of external circumstances. As Barclay reminds us, ‘happiness’ comes from the root ‘hap’ which means chance.235 Human happiness is by chance, when ‘everything’s going our way.’ Divine blessedness is the inner joy, serenity, and composure which comes from knowing that we are right with God, that our contentment and well being are not the product of chance but of infinite grace.
The Poor in Spirit (verse 3)
Of the two Greek words which are used to describe poverty, the one used here by our Lord (ptochos) is the most dire and destitute.236 Literally, the root means to crouch or cower. This man’s poverty has beaten him to his knees. In the Old Testament, the word poor evolved through a progression of usage.237 First, it simply meant poor. Then, it implied having no influence, prestige, or, as we would say, clout. Since the poor man had no clout, he was abused and oppressed by men. Finally, as he could rely on no one else, he came to trust in God. Over and over the expression ‘poor’ spoke of the man who recognized his own inadequacy and who trusted only in God: “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles” (Psalm 34:6; cf. 9:18; 35:10; 68:10; 72:4; 107:41; 132:15).
Isaiah spoke often of this kind of poverty, and promised to these ‘poor’ the salvation of the Lord (Isaiah 41:17,18; 57:15; 61:1; 66:1,2).
Our Lord is not commending poverty, but that spirit of humility which it often engenders. Those who will inherit the Kingdom of heaven are those who are fully aware that they have nothing to commend them before God. They recognize that they are spiritually destitute and they wait upon God for His deliverance and salvation. How different are the rich in this world’s goods who ‘trust in the deceitfulness of riches’ (1 Timothy 6:17).
How proud and pompous were the scribes and Pharisees who could pray, “God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. I fast twice a week, I pay tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:11-12).
Those Who Mourn (verse 4)
This strong word for mourning often expressed the grief of one over the loss of a loved one (cf. Genesis 37:34 LXX). In addition, it was used of those who grieved over sin, both theirs and others. This surely is the primary sense of this term as it is used here. Not only must there be an admission of sin, but a genuine sense of remorse over it. There is little talk today, even in Christian churches, about remorse and sorrow for sins. To some we are simply to ‘fess up’ with God. We speak glibly of 1 John 1:9 as ‘God’s bar of soap.’ God spare us from this casual attitude toward sin (cf. Ezra 10:1; Psalm 119:135; Ezekiel 9:4; Philippians 3:18).
There is comfort for those who mourn. For those who mourn over physical death and the separation it brings, we can be comforted that Jesus Christ has won the victory over sin, death and the grave. Those whom we have left behind (or rather have left us behind) in the Lord, we shall see again (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
There is likewise comfort for those who mourn due to sin. The atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross has won for every Christian freedom from the penalty of sin (Romans 6:23; 8:1), from the power of sin (Romans 6:14), and ultimately from the presence of sin (Romans 8:18ff.).
Those Who Are Gentle (verse 5)
Meekness has never been a coveted quality. We usually think of meekness in terms of weakness. It is hardly the quality which a Burt Reynolds movie portrays (so they tell me). It is a Casper Milquetoast quality, or so we suppose.
We must remember that Moses was called ‘the meekest man on the face of the earth’ (Numbers 12:3). Our Lord Jesus also referred to Himself as meek (Matthew 11:29). Meekness often implied self-control; it was the gentleness of strength.
Dr. Lloyd-Jones stresses that the meekness of which our Lord spoke is prompted by an awareness of our own sinfulness.238 It is difficult to be harsh with others in an area where we ourselves fail. Once we have come to acknowledge our own sinfulness and waywardness, we will be less quick to criticize others. There is a proverb which says, “The poor man utters supplications, but the rich man answers roughly” (Proverbs 18:23).
Our own view of ourselves is reflected in our treatment of others. The rich can be rude, impolite, and insensitive. They can ride roughshod over others, because they can afford to. The poor man must deal gently with everyone. He is in no position to do otherwise.
I once worked for a man with an explosive and uncontrolled temper. His temper could erupt like a flaming volcano and all the hired help would brace up for his verbal attacks. But in front of a customer, he was soft and sweet.
I find Paul’s words in Galatians 6:1 very much to the point:
“Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; looking to yourselves, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).
Do you see the point? One’s view of himself determines or modifies his relationship with others. A meek person is one who controls himself, fully aware that he is a sinner as well.
The other evening, I attended the Dallas Seminary Founders Banquet. It was a lovely event and Dr. Charles Swindoll gave an excellent message on servanthood. On the way home, I thought of an additional characteristic of a servant: the servant does not see it as his calling to criticize other servants. In Paul’s words, “Who are you to judge the servant of another?” (Romans 14:4).
Servants don’t pass judgments; lords do. If we see ourselves as servants, we concern ourselves with our service, not that of others. Meekness (shall I say servanthood?) stems from my attitude toward myself and my position before God and men.
Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness (verse 6)
Centuries before the coming of Christ to the earth in bodily form Isaiah the prophet had written, “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost” (Isaiah 55:1).
The righteous remnant within Israel had always longed for the establishment of righteousness and justice upon the earth. They cried out to God in their distress; they agonized over the prosperity of the wicked (cf. Psalm 37). The promise was always the same: “Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He will do it. And He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your judgment as the noonday” (Psalm 37:5,6).
Those who have come to acknowledge their unworthiness and spiritual poverty (verse 3), and who are genuinely contrite over their sins and others (verse 4) look for the time when righteousness will be established upon the earth. This righteousness is part and parcel with the coming Messiah and His millennial Kingdom.
Few Americans have any concept of the intensity of the hunger and thirst referred to by the Lord Jesus in the beatitudes. We are conditioned to thirst, something like Pavlov’s dogs, by television and the advertising media, who produce thirst sensations to sell their products. The thirst and hunger mentioned here is an unquenchable one, the result of prolonged deprivation.
Those who truly desire righteousness will be satisfied. First of all, Christians are clothed in the personal righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ (Zechariah 3; Romans 3:21,22; 10:4; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Our filthy rags of self-righteous works are cast aside (Isaiah 64:6), and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us when we trust in Him. Also, when our Lord returns, righteousness will prevail. “But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).
Implied in this beatitude is the assumption that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness recognize it is something which they do not possess in themselves. It is rather something which they lack, but desperately desire. The scribes and Pharisees were convinced that they possessed all the righteousness necessary for entrance into the kingdom of God. Our Lord’s response to the self-righteous religious segment of Israel made this fact clear: “ … it is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).
Those Who Are Merciful (verse 7)
Another character trait of the true believer is that of mercy. Mercy as an attitude is closely related to pity. It is the painful response of a warm heart to tragedy and misery, pain and suffering. This attitude manifests itself in acts of kindness which are intended to relieve the suffering. Mercy sees the ugly and grotesque and reaches out to help rather than to look the other way and withdraw.
Mercy is one of the awe-inspiring attributes of God, whereby He looks upon man in his pitiful state of sin and rebellion and comes to his aid. The supreme act of mercy was the death of Christ upon Calvary’s cross. This mercy is therefore a characteristic of every true believer.
The scribes and Pharisees know nothing of genuine mercy. Any act of charity was simply an attempt to get public acclaim (cf. Matthew 6:2-4). In reality, the scribes and Pharisees looked upon the helpless and forsaken as potential prey: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, even while for a pretense you make long prayers …” (Matthew 23:14).
Not only can the believer look back to God’s acts of mercy in the past, but he also can expect God to continue to deal with him in mercy. Thus every Christian can look forward to receiving mercy in the future. (We must not forget that God’s supreme act of mercy, the substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross, was yet future to those to whom Jesus spoke this sermon.)
Those Who Are Pure in Heart (verse 8)
Inward purity is another facet of the character of a true believer. The scribes and Pharisees had occupied themselves with external, outward cleanliness. They were meticulous, for example, about the ceremonial washing of their hands, but at the same time they were corrupt within: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25).
Purity must begin inwardly, and then manifest itself by our overt acts (cf. Matthew 23:26). The people of God have always been marked by inner purity (Psalm 24:4; 51:10; 73:1).
It is they who have hoped to stand in the presence of the living God. And this is what our Lord has promised: “For they shall see God” (verse 8b).
This purity of heart, this absolute sincerity and openness before God and men is not the work of man. As David wrote, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). Purity of heart is the work of God Himself.
Those Who Are Peacemakers (verse 9)
There are many kinds of peace these days. There is the ‘cold war’ kind of peace which means the absence of blatant aggression of warfare. This exists within nations and is characteristic of many marriages. Someone has described these marriages as ‘unholy deadlock.’ There is the peace of apathy and acquiescence. This is what might be called ‘peace at any cost.’ This is the peace of those who say, “Better Red than dead.”
But this is not the kind of peace of which our Lord speaks. Those who have come to faith in Jesus Christ as their sin-bearer and Savior have experienced peace with God. This peace spoke of our reconciliation with God, but it also involves the reconciliation of man with man (cf. Ephesians 2). Those who have experienced this peace will prove to be reconcilers of men (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).
Although we are to be peacemakers, we are not appeasers of men. We do not seek peace at any price, but we seek to share the peace achieved through the precious blood of Jesus Christ. In spite of our efforts to pursue the path of peace (cf. Romans 12:18) our faith will inevitably bring reaction, persecution, and conflict. The disciples were foretold by our Lord that such was to be the result of His ministry also:
“Do not think that I come to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-inlaw against her mother-in-law” (Matthew 10:34,35).
The proclamation of the gospel, combined with a life lived in accordance with the Word of God confronts men with a choice. They will either joyfully accept it, or vehemently reject it. Such are the natural (though not intentioned) consequences of Christian discipleship.
The Response of the World to Christian Living
We have already seen that although a true believer may live a model life (as our Lord Jesus did without sin), there will be rejection and even persecution. Jesus did not present persecution on the liabilities side of the ledger, but rather on that of the blessings of discipleship. Thus, He began, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness …” (Matthew 5:10).
Persecution is a natural reaction to righteousness. Peter explained it this way,
“For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. And in all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excess of dissipation, and they malign you” (1 Peter 4:3,4).
The world is threatened by a Christian lifestyle. It convicts them of sin, and it condemns their way of life. The natural response to a threat is retaliation. Here is the source of our persecution.
There are three reasons which our Lord gives which explain why this persecution can be perceived as a blessing. First of all, it is suffering for His sake. It is a distinct privilege to suffer for the sake of Christ. “So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41, cf. Philippians 1:29; 3:10; Colossians 1:24-29).
Second, suffering in the present gives promise of future rewards: “Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great …” (Matthew 5:12).
The writer to the Hebrews said of Moses, “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:24-25). The divine order has always been suffering, then glory.
Third, we can rejoice because persecution for Christ’s sake places us in the company of the prophets of old, who, for their testimony, were persecuted as well (Matthew 5:12b).
The Reason for Righteous Living
Realizing that a life lived according to the beatitudes will surely lead to rejection and persecution, some Christians may be tempted to conceal themselves within their society. To counter this temptation our Lord explained the purpose for righteous attitudes and actions in verses 13-16. Essentially, the reason is that it is only by being distinctive as a Christian that a true believer can glorify God and contribute positively to his society. To illustrate His point, the Lord Jesus used two illustrations or figures: salt and light.
Salt was as common a commodity in biblical times as it is today. In the Old Testament, salt was used as a seasoning (Job 6:6), and it was to accompany many of the sacrifices which were offered (Leviticus 2:13). It was also used by the Orientals to seal an agreement (as, I am told, is still practiced by the Arabs today239) and was used on covenants between God and Israel (Numbers 18:19; 2 Chronicles 13:5). Salt, then, was a seasoning ingredient, a symbol of purity and perpetuation.
There were great quantities of salt on the shores of the Dead Sea, which was of the rock or fossil variety.240 Because of impurities and contamination, much of the outer layer of this salt was useless as a seasoning ingredient. Our Lord’s reference to ‘salt’ in Matthew 5:13 may well refer to this contaminated ‘salt’ which was virtually useless. In this case, He is saying that the Christian who compromises with the world about him loses his purity and, at the same time, his usefulness to God and society.
Light is also one of the fundamental needs of man. The world at large is in spiritual darkness (Psalm 82:5; Proverbs 4:19; Ephesians 6:12, etc.). Our Lord Jesus came as the ‘light’ of this world (John 1:5ff, 8:12) and to call men out of the darkness and into the light (Ephesians 5:8; Colossians 1:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-5). We now reflect the light of His glory to the world about by our good works (which He performs in us). As lights we expose the evil deeds of darkness and we illuminate the divine path which God has prescribed for men to walk in righteousness. The purpose of light is to illuminate, to shine forth plainly in the darkness (Matthew 5:15); therefore, the Christian can only fulfill his purpose by being conspicuous in his distinct lifestyle.
The Christian lifestyle is by its very nature a distinctive one. Anyone who attempts to live according to the Sermon on the Mount will be able to do so only by the power of the Spirit of God. It is the life of the Christian for only the Christian desires to live thus, and only the Christian can live in this way. A conspicuous lifestyle will inevitably bring adverse reaction, and so we must prepare ourselves for persecution. Even in this we may rejoice, knowing it is for the sake of our Lord, that our reward awaits us in heaven, and that we are in the company of the prophets of old. Apart from a Christian lifestyle the Christian cannot glorify God or contribute to his society.
Several conclusions are hard to avoid as a result of our study in the beatitudes. First of all, I must underscore the fact that while these beatitudes constitute God’s measure of a man or woman of the world, they surely do not conform to the world’s standards. The model which our media portrays for men and women is not God’s. Humility, repentance, meekness, inner purity and so on are not what the world considers the marks of maturity, or of manhood. God help us to see this clearly and to respond to the situation as we should.
Second, I am impressed by the fact that the circumstances which bring some men to God’s blessing are identical with those which cause others to curse God. How can a good God allow hunger and poverty? Someone has said that we are either like a potato or an egg. Boiling water hardens eggs and softens potatoes. The very same circumstances result in opposite effects. If you are experiencing very humbling circumstances, it may well be that God is bringing you to the point of being ‘poor in spirit,’ and of being a true mourner who seeks the righteousness of God. Adversity brings some men to distrust self and to turn to God for eternal salvation. Have you yet realized your spiritual bankruptcy? Do you hate your sin and long for a righteousness which you cannot produce? Then you must turn to Jesus Christ in faith. He died for sinners. He offers you the righteousness which God requires to enter into His Kingdom.
Third, I fear that many Christians are desperately trying to camouflage their convictions and calling as disciples to avoid rejection and persecution. Secularism has crept into the church in an appalling way. Christians have come to think and act like the world about them. We even seek to evangelize with the world’s methodology and appeal to a secular mentality.
Often our conformity is backhanded. When the world decides it is time to wear dresses with the hemline at the hips, the church raises their hems to above the knee. When the world decides to go ‘topless,’ Christians decide to go to a two-piece swim suit. On and on it goes. The church is not setting the pace or the standards; they wait for the world to act and fall in two paces behind. How pitiful!
Our children desperately desire the acceptance of their peers. They wish to be ‘Joe Cool.’ They will do nearly anything to avoid being different. And we adults are no different. We cut corners on our income taxes and exceed the speed limit because ‘everyone else is doing it.’ Even divorce is becoming rampant among Christians and Christian leaders. We are much too similar to the church at Laodicea, which was ‘neither hot nor cold’ (Revelation 3:14ff.). How God hates such mediocrity! May God enable us to live distinctively to His glory, and to the benefit of our society.
227 A less detailed parallel account is given by Luke (6:20-49). Although there are differences in the two accounts, I believe these underscore the authenticity and integrity of both. Any alleged discrepancies can be harmonized. For a fuller discussion of this matter, cf. John R. W. Stott, Christian Counter-Culture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1978), pp. 21-23.
228 “In fact, an analysis of 119 passages in the New Testament where the expression ‘Kingdom’ occurs, shows that it means the rule of God; which was manifested in and through Christ; is apparent in the Church; gradually develops amidst hindrances; is triumphant at the second coming of Christ (‘the end’); and, finally perfected in the world to come.” Alford Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), I, p. 270. The ‘Kingdom’ in the mind of the Jews of Jesus’ day was the Millennial Kingdom which God would establish at the coming of Messiah. (This Kingdom was offered to Israel by Jesus, her Messiah, but rejected.) The fulfillment of this 1000 year reign is still future, and God’s promise of this Kingdom is sure. While the Millennial reign is yet future, there is a sense in which the Kingdom of God is now present in the church. It is my conviction that the church is to reflect to the world the righteous rule of God in miniature (since only the Christians submit to it, and then imperfectly) and is a shadow of that which is yet to come universally and in perfection.
229 This is the position taken by Stott (p. 23) and William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1958), I, p. 80. Liberal scholars go so far as to say that it was never really one sermon, but merely a collection of some of Jesus’ sermons.
230 “In Matthew’s version there are 107 verses. Of these 107 verses 29 are found altogether in Luke 6:20-49; 47 have no parallel in Luke’s version and 34 are scattered all over Luke’s gospel in different contexts … That is to say, passages which are consecutive in Matthew’s gospel appear in widely separated chapters in Luke’s gospel … If we tabulate these things, the matter will become clear:
Matthew 5:13 = Luke 14:34,35
Matthew 5:15 = Luke 8:16
Matthew 5:18 = Luke 16:17
Matthew 7:1-5 = Luke 6:37-42
Matthew 7:7-12 = Luke 11:9-13”
William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, I, p. 80.
232 “And there have been many other attempts to accommodate the Sermon on the Mount to the low levels of our moral attainment. In the fourth and fifth chapters of his book Understanding the Sermon on the Mount, Harvey McArthur first surveys and then evaluates no fewer than twelve different ways of interpreting the Sermon. He says he might well have subtitled this section ‘Versions and Evasions of the Sermon on the Mount,’ for all but one of the twelve interpretations offer prudential qualifications of its apparently absolute demands.” Stott, p. 27.
234 Likewise I have often heard it said by some who oppose running the church according to New Testament principles of ecclesiology (in favor of tradition), “You can’t run a church like that.” True enough, unless God is the head of His church, divinely providing for it and protecting it.