Jesus taught that it is critical for believers to cultivate and maintain strong, loving relationships. The religious leaders in the time of Jesus taught that as long as you did not murder or injure your brother, your relationship with him was acceptable to God. But those who have Jesus' attitude of mercy are to show it; not to do so will affect our private worship. We must make sure we are not alienated from anyone who Jesus calls our "brother." Anger and feelings of disgust toward our brothers and sisters must be addressed if we want to have a relationship with them that is pleasing to God.
We live in a competitive world. Sometimes our relationship with competitors, or adversaries, becomes hostile, and they are determined to sue us or even put us in prison. Disciples who are peacemakers do not get angry or try to get even with their enemies. Instead, they determine never to be the source of conflict with adversarial people. Jesus also taught us how to relate to the opposite sex. As with other sins, Jesus goes to the source: our hearts. If we really want to be part of the solution as salt and light, we must learn how to control our sexual desires.
The religious leaders in Jesus' day had an elaborate system in which some oaths were binding and others were not. It was an absurd, complicated system that did not honor God's command not to bear false witness. Jesus insisted that His disciples be people of the Word and people who keep their word.
These verses are perhaps the most difficult in the teachings of Jesus to interpret and apply. They teach the highest ethic this world has ever heard. The religious leaders had been teaching that the Law says to love your neighbor (which it does) and to hate your enemy (which it does not). Jesus corrects the misunderstanding and calls for total commitment from His disciples. Loving our neighbors and even our enemies according to God's standards is impossible, except for one thing: we have Jesus living in us.
If we follow Jesus and have His attitudes, we will be changed. We will become the salt of the earth and like lights that shine in the world. That means that we will not live the same way that others live. We will do more because we have Jesus living in our hearts. We will have a greater love than the world knows and show greater grace and mercy than the world understands. In so doing, we will become like our Father in heaven.
Jesus has taught His disciples to consider the blessed attitudes that must be in their hearts, and He has taught them to apply those beatitudes in their relationships. Now in Matthew chapter 6, He urges His disciples to look in another direction toward their relationship with God. They are to live their commitment as disciples by following certain spiritual, or vertical, disciplines and values.
Jesus taught His disciples how to pray with a prayer we often call "The Lord's Prayer." But this prayer really should be called "the Disciples' Prayer" because Jesus never prayed it Himself. He said this is how we should pray. Jesus tells us to pray in a place where we can shut the door and be alone, where there is no one to impress but God.
Like giving and praying, fasting also must be vertical, directed toward God and not to impress others. As with the other disciplines, God will reward what He sees, the motives of our heart. As giving provides an opportunity for us to measure our commitment to God, fasting gives us an opportunity to measure the degree to which we value the spiritual more than the physical aspects of our lives. It also demonstrates the sincerity of our prayers.
One of the reasons people have so many problems is that they do not have the right values. Disciples who have the right attitudes within them are living with the right values. That is why they can have a salt and light influence in the world; their priorities are based on eternity and not on earthly treasures.
This passage addresses anxiety, but at its core it is really teaching about values, or priorities. When we worry, we are showing what we value and how much we trust God to care for us. Every disciple of Jesus should have a "priority target," with a black circle in the center representing the rule of God over their hearts. Everything outside that center should be prioritized by the King of kings as He shows us what is right. Whatever we are tempted to worry about will be provided by our heavenly Father.
Jesus begins by teaching His disciples eight attitudes called, the "beatitudes," or "blessed attitudes," because each one is introduced by the word "blessed." Jesus is promising to bless the disciple who has each of these attitudes. This word "blessed" can actually mean "happy," "spiritually prosperous," or "in a state of grace." Each attitude also includes a promise that describes the form in which this blessing will come into the life of that disciple.
The Sermon on the Mount is one of the key teachings of the Bible. Jesus preached this sermon on a mountaintop in Galilee when He challenged people who professed to be His disciples to be strategically placed between the love of God and the pain of the hurting people in the world. He challenged His disciples to partner with Him and be conduits of His love. He concluded His sermon with a call to commitment. It changed the lives of many who heard it.
Many people think Jesus was contradicting the Old Testament in these verses, but He was only confronting the teaching of the religious leaders. He was telling His disciples: "Everything I am teaching you is found in the Word of God, but what I am teaching is in direct conflict with what your religious leaders have been teaching you."
The word "mercy" means "unconditional love." When David writes in Psalm 23:6 that mercy will follow him all the days of his life, the word he uses for "follow" actually means "pursue." God's unconditional love will pursue David all of his life. This is the kind of love for others that we must have too, if we are to be like God.
Believers sometimes have the misguided opinion that their faith is weak if they show signs of mourning. This beatitude not only supports mourning it links it to a blessing. Mourning a loss is normal and there are things God wants us to learn from the loss. We must let God use our mourning to move us in three ways. First, mourning helps us ask the right questions about life. Second, it helps us to seek God's answers. Third, it also helps us to accept the blessing God has provided including our salvation.
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