The Sermon on the Mount has always captivated me. More than likely, this is because I love it when a proven leader delivers a distilled executive summary or brief, and that is exactly what Jesus does in Matthew 5-7. Jesus pulled His “leadership team” (a mixed bag that included former fishermen, a political figure, and a tax collector) away for a strategic mountain retreat to nail down the equivalent of mission, vision, and values for the new venture.
In much the same way, every executive I know carves out time each year to connect with his or her senior team about these crucial items that steer any enterprise. Just like the President delivers a State of the Union address to the country every year, all leaders should also regularly deliver a top-line “State of the Business” address to their organization, articulating the What, the Why, and the How of their organization.
I have spent most of my adult life pondering these three chapters at the beginning of Matthew’s account. I even spent a couple of years intensely studying them along the way. During that period of intense study I profoundly connected with Philip Yancey’s statement regarding the Sermon on the Mount, “If I fail to understand this teaching, I fail to understand Him.”
Here are ten takeaways from the Sermon on the Mount as it fits my world.
- No single verse contains all of God’s thought on any single topic. In other words, I need to grapple with the entire biblical witness for a given topic in order to accurately capture God’s thinking on that theme or issue.
- High impact, long-lasting kingdom influence usually requires adapting and customizing your approach to your audience. When I think about it, Jesus had at least four audiences throughout His ministry, each with a particular approach: The Uninterested Outsider, The Interested Observer, The Committed Learner, The Starving Heart.
- The gospel travels the road of caring and authentic relationships. The formula for greatest kingdom impact is a life that demonstrates redemption and grace, authentic relationship and customized intentionality. No one wants to be a project or a notch on your belt.
- At the end of the day, lasting influence is more about who you are than what you do. Perhaps this is why He started the whole sermon with the “BE attitudes”—who I am supposed to be first, then what I am supposed to do.
- Ultimately, the way I embrace culture defines the way I understand the gospel, and the way I understand and engage the gospel dictates the way I approach cultural engagement as a Jesus follower. Generally, followers of Jesus have applied the gospel to their culture in one of four possible ways: Christ against Culture—Withdraw; Christ of Culture—Acquiesce; Christ over Culture—Mandate; Christ the transformer of Culture—Influence. H. Richard Niebuhr first captured these distinctions in his classic work, Christ and Culture.
- Jesus redirected the standard for righteousness from external actions to an internal heart condition. Real righteousness was never intended to be an externally oriented practice. Jesus always intended for our religion to be a heart-based and heart-transforming journey. (See I Samuel 16:7; Proverbs 23:7; Jeremiah 31:33.)
- Jesus expected the true gospel (inside-out righteousness) to touch and transform everything about us. In essence, His redemptive work presses into the details of our life and work.
- If Jesus can perfectly care for things of lesser value (birds and flowers), why do I worry that He won’t take care of me (His greatest creation)?
- Authenticity is essential but hard to attain.
- I need to work on my own life with as much intensity as I can muster and let God tend to the problems and shortcomings I see in others.