“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you . . . Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-44, 48, NKJV)
When Jesus gave what we refer to as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), He packed a lot into that one discourse. We are familiar with the Beatitudes, but Jesus talked about so much more that day. He covered nitty-gritty topics such as anger, murder, lust, and adultery. He said to love our enemies, to give to the needy, to stop being hypocritical judges. He taught those gathered there how to fast and pray, how to deal with worry, and how to recognize true treasure in life. His sermon was like a handbook on life. The people listening that day had a lot to think about on their journey home.
Within the space of three chapters in the Bible, the Lord gives us guidelines on how to live wisely, authentically, and pleasing to Him. Simple? Hardly. Much of what He said that day, and on other occasions as well, is counter to what our culture considers right or fair. It definitely clashes with the “me first” attitude prevalent today.
Throughout His sermon, we notice Jesus stating, “You have heard . . . but I say to you.” He asked His followers to go beyond the expected, to live their lives in a new way. Some would call His teachings radical. I feel His words are practical and, when followed, allow us to live a more fulfilling life.
Some of the things Jesus taught are to—
- Control our anger (5:22).
- Reconcile with an offended brother (5:23).
- Live morally pure (5:27-28).
- Turn the other cheek (5:39).
- Go the second mile (5:41).
- Love our enemies (5:43-44).
- Give with right motives (6:1).
- Forgive others (6:14-15).
- Not be judgmental and hypocritical (7:1-5).
Jesus sets a higher standard of conduct than that of the world. The principles within the Sermon on the Mount point us to a better way of life. We do not make ourselves a doormat, a weakling, if we turn the other cheek or return good for evil. Instead, we are choosing higher ground and are freeing ourselves from negative emotions. When we choose love over retaliation, we are responding as Jesus would respond. When we reconcile with a brother or sister, we keep our spirits free from bitterness and anger. When we forgive others, God forgives us.
The words of Jesus are just as relevant today as when He sat on a mountain with the crowd gathered around. In terms we can easily understand, Jesus offers us the basics of living a life pleasing to God and in harmony with others. If we apply these basics to our Christian walk, we move beyond the expected. And that is authentic Christianity.
Suggestion: During your personal devotional time, read Matthew 5-7. (You may wish to focus on a different passage each day.) What lessons can you learn from these verses? Is there a portion that speaks directly to a situation you are facing? Ask God to reveal any areas in which you need improvement.