Blueprint for Living: The Introduction to a Lenten Series on Matthew 5-7

In the Sermon on the Mount, the words are from Jesus but the arrangement, progression, and setting are Matthew's. It is readily obvious that this collection of sayings, though often grouped into sections and by theme, represents a wide variety of genres and subject matter, covering the broad spectrum of ethical behavior, signs of God's kingdom, challenging directives in spirituality, pastoral words of assurance, and commandments for loving that seem far beyond our human reach. This collection of teachings seems at times idealistic, as in the proclamation of the blessed people in the beatitudes. At other times, Jesus' words are remarkably pragmatic, as in formula of the golden rule. Some teachings are remarkably clear, offering comfort to those who mourn, while other passages invite debate, as when Jesus speaks of the marriage covenant and divorce.

A key subject matter in these discourses is how a Christian should behave and what constitutes ethical behavior and true goodness. Matthew places very early in the collection words that clarify the relationship of his teaching with established Jewish law. Will Jesus encourage the relaxing of the law? In Chapter 5, verses 17 and 20 Jesus defines that relationship.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. . . For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus, though affirming the ethical foundation of Jewish law, will clearly go beyond its scope. The so-called six antitheses found in chapter five will follow a formula. First comes the statement of the old law introduced by "you have heard that it was said," followed by "but I say to you." After summarizing each Jewish scripture or tradition, Jesus will either re-interpret the law or add to it. He does so according to Matthew by his own "authority." Much of the Sermon on the Mount has to do with how a Christian is to behave and how a Christian's inner life is absolutely critical in being good. Thought and motive, not simply outward actions, are the true touchstones of moral goodness.

I cannot image a devout Jew seeking to live a moral life without the Ten Commandments as a guide for living. Likewise, Christians dare not seek to follow the Christian way without adhering to the teachings within the Sermon on the Mount. This collection of teachings does indeed contain a "blueprint for living."

For Reflection:

  1. What is your favorite gospel and why?
  2. What role does Jesus' teaching play in your life as a Christian?
  3. How would you define goodness? Would your definition exceed the righteousness of that forwarded by the Pharisees?

For all of the articles in this series, refer to Pastor Tull's author page.

3/8/2011 5:00:00 AM
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  • Justin Tull
    About Justin Tull
    The Reverend Dr. Justin W. Tull is a retired ordained United Methodist minister having served thirty-seven years in the North Texas area. During this time he was senior pastor of nine churches ranging in membership from 274 to 2200. Dr. Tull is currently receiving training to teach those seeking certification as interim pastors.
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