Sunday Night Live Sermons
GUIDELINES FOR RELATIONSHIPS
Essentials For The Twenty-First Century
For twenty-five years, I have had in my office, by my window a saying engraved into a piece of polished wood. It reads, “LIFE RESPONDS TO YOUR ATTITUDES.” It means you get back what you give. If you look at life with hope and optimism things go well. If you approach life with negativity then it is the other people who get the breaks. If you relate to other people with warmth and enthusiasm, other people reflect that back to you. I have not always taken that advice. But it is a great truth: life responds with what we bring to it. It is true of nature. If we push industrial smoke into the atmosphere, then acid rain comes down. If we throw rubbish into the gutters, the rain sweeps it through the drains and out to sea. But the sea just throws our rubbish back onto our beaches.
Christian people are not born with Christian attitudes. We have to grow them. It takes patience, careful reading of the scriptures and modelling our life upon that of our Master to be able to respond to life with Christian attitudes. The Apostle Paul wrote: Phil 2:3–5 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” But what are the attitudes of Jesus we should follow? The attitudes of the world are clear: “Do others before they do you.” “He who has the most toys at the end wins.” “Charity begins at home.” “Happy are they who push for they get ahead.” “Look after No 1, because no-one else will.” Yet none of these are true in the long term.
The way of selfishness, the way of personal pleasure, the way of aggression is never the way to permanent peace and joy. Further. the self-centred, the pushers and whingers never know happiness. These are the attitudes of the world. But Jesus gives us a different way and better attitudes. Jesus models eight qualities of character that will be found in the person who follows Him. He teaches us how to have the attitudes of citizens of God’s Kingdom. They of all people are most happy. His manifesto is revolutionary. He stands our ordinary ideas on their head. In fact, anyone who thinks through our everyday attitudes and compares them with these thoughts of Jesus, realises how sensible He is.
People about us rely on their own strength, boast of their achievements, and push to get ahead. Jesus tells us that the really happy are they who have confidence in God, who sorrow for their sins, and who make room in their lives for God to work within them. Happiness lies in letting go and letting God. Yet people stuff their lives with things to satisfy their deepest longings; look after No 1 and satiate their desires in order to bring themselves pleasure. Jesus tells us that the really happy are they who hunger after right living, who demonstrate compassion and mercy, and who live with transparent purity of thought and behaviour. People seek to get ahead by walking over others, by causing dissension and seeking their own comfort. Jesus tells us that the really happy are they who are the reconcilers and peacemakers in the community, who bear hardship and persecution because they know they have done right. His way is paradoxical, turning the values of our hedonistic humanistic society on it’s head.
His way is profound, because our deepest thinkers can criticise our old ways, but they have never been able to improve upon His way. His way is positive, giving to ordinary people the power to so order their lives that they can make the most of what they are. His way is not for everyone. In fact, the majority of people go on their way down a broad and easy way that ends in their own destruction. But a few hear His words and follow His way. They find it hard and holy, but it leads to life eternal, to the abolition of worry, and to incredible happiness. Jesus gives us a model in His own attitudes.
The Sermon on the Mount begins with eight new attitudes. Note the people described, the qualities commended and the blessings promised.
- The people described. The Beatitudes set forth the character of Christian people. These are eight qualities of the same people who are meek and merciful, poor in spirit and pure in heart, mourning and hungry, peacemakers and persecuted. The beatitudes are Christ’s specification of what a Christian ought to be.
- The qualities commended. Jesus had compassion on the needy and fed the hungry, and he told His followers to do the same. Yet the blessing of His kingdom was not primarily one of economic advantage. The poverty and hunger to which Jesus refers in the Beatitudes are spiritual states. It is “ the poor in spirit” and “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” whom He declares blessed as are the other qualities He mentions. For “the poor in Spirit” are the pious who — partly because they were needy, downtrodden, oppressed or in other ways afflicted — had put their faith and hope in God.
- The blessings promised. Each quality leads to each person who exhibits it being “blessed”. The Greek word makarios means “happy”. So J.B.Phillips translates the opening words of each beatitude, “How happy are…!” They are Jesus’ prescription for human happiness. Robert Schuller called them “The Be Happy Attitudes.”
Jesus indicates it is not what we feel, but what we are that is important. He is declaring not that we feel “happy”, but that God thinks of us as “righteous”. Hence we are “blessed”. What is this blessing? The second half of each beatitude tells us. We possess the kingdom of heaven. We inherit the earth. The mourners are comforted and the hungry are satisfied. They receive mercy, they see God. They are called the sons of God. Their heavenly reward is great. And all these blessings belong together. Just as the eight qualities describe the attitudes every Christian should have, so the eight blessings are given to every Christian.
Jesus says life in the Kingdom with Him is a life of profound joy which no person or circumstance can take away. This blessedness is not reserved for the future. It is for now! Life responds to these Christ-like attitudes and the result is happiness. There are eight attitudes which Jesus singles out.
- The poor in spirit are happy. Not the hardboiled, who push others around. The phrase “poor in spirit” refers to those who have confidence only in God, ground down as they may be by longstanding social and political distress. They have learned to put their trust in God alone, and to their unspeakable joy they find that the Kingdom is God’s free gift to them.
- The mourners are happy. They are happier than drunks at a booze-up. For they have seen the depth of the world’s suffering and of their own sin, and it has broken their heart. Then we are wide open for the comfort that God gives. Jesus came “to bring good tidings to the afflicted, to bind up the broken hearted.”
- The meek are happy. Deeply happy in a way to which the big headed can never aspire. This is revolutionary stuff. It says that victory goes not to the wise or to the strong but to those who are so small before God that God can exalt them without them getting proud.
- The starving are happy. We think the bloated wealthy are happy. But Jesus is not talking about physical starvation, but of spiritual hunger. There is a profound happiness in having a desperate hunger, a burning thirst after goodness, complete righteousness not just a part of it. If you have that passionate desire to be right with God and stay that way, He is going to answer it to the full, and you are going to be happy.
- The merciful are happy. The legalists want justice, their pound of flesh. But those who have tasted the sheer mercy of God receiving them into the Kingdom show mercy to others and rejoice.
- The pure in heart are happy. No lust is more satisfying. Pure means unalloyed, unadulterated. There is no stress and strain with purity, just happiness.
- The peacemakers are happy. Self-assertiveness and aggression never know this happiness. Those who reconcile the estranged are doing something Godlike: That is why the peacemakers are happy.
- The persecuted are happy. For the sake of Jesus, you may appear to lose all: but you gain the Kingdom of heaven. All down the centuries there has been a peace and joy about those who suffer for righteousness.
That is Jesus’ description of the right attitudes to living. When Jesus wanted to illustrate these attitudes we should grow within us, He took a little child, stood him in the midst of the disciples, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” Matt 18. Jesus used this illustration to teach that if we insist on retaining the privileges of adulthood — if we want to be our own boss, do our own thing, govern our own lives — we cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. But if we are willing to come on the basis of childlike faith and receive salvation with the humility of a child, with a willingness to surrender to Christ’s authority, then we are coming with the right attitude.
The challenge that comes to all of us, is to turn our lives round and follow the way of Jesus. To commit ourselves to His way and will, and then grow within us, the right attitudes that reflect His. Those of us who have committed our lives to Him already, know His way is both sane and sensible. We would never return to our old ways. That process of turning from our way and following His way is what is called conversion. Turning from our way and following His way commences with the turn that is called repentance. But both conversion and repentance rely upon your belief in Jesus as God’s provision for our deepest needs. He is our Saviour. Then we must go on, and grow those attitudes within us that we see in Jesus. He gives us the grace, when re-born, to grow a new set of attitudes and life responds to them in the same fashion. There is no age at which it is better to make such a commitment. Young or old, now is the right time to commit yourself to God through Jesus Christ.
A few years ago Wesley Mission sponsored a visit to Sydney of the orchestra from the great First Baptist Church of Atlanta, Georgia. They played at services and in our caring centres. At W.G. Taylor Village, one elderly resident, asked our Administrator to visit her room after the concert. The resident said: “I have been terribly upset and worried lately. I had come to the conclusion that life wasn’t worth living. Then I went to the concert. At the conclusion, an orchestra member gave me a small New Testament. I have never read the Bible, and I was in such bad state that I started to read the Sermon on the Mount. And listen to what it says”, and she read this passage about our attitudes of happiness and their converse of worry. Then she continued: “That answers my problem. I now believe in Jesus and my whole life is different since I discovered His word. Jesus knows and understands.” “Yes He does” said our administrator. The old lady found new attitudes to life and the happiness of having those attitudes which were seen in Jesus.
What about you? We have entered this new century And we will need new attitudes if we are to establish new relationships. They old attitudes cannot build new relationships. Have you left self-centredness and aggression behind you and entered the life of happiness that Jesus offers? Commit your life to Him now.
- “The Gospel According To Jesus” John F. MacArthur, Jr. Zondervan, 1988
- “Matthew For Today” Michael Green Hodder 1988