The Relational Progression
A Relational Theology of Discipleship
6 Discipleship Formation
Study Note: Please engage each chap. in sequence because this study is cumulative.
"Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth."
Knowledge puffs up but love builds up.
1 Corinthians 8:1
Following the person of Jesus defines a distinct identity for his disciples. If not apparent already, his words throughout his earthly life are critical for this identity formation--none more important, and probably more neglected, than his words in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7).
When Jesus finished this discourse, the crowds were amazed at his teachings (Gk. didache, doctrine) because he taught with authority (Gk. exousia, the power, right, privilege, commission to do something, Mt 7:28,29). If they were talking only about Jesus, we can probably assume that he gave them more than they expected, for example, given his socio-cultural status. But since they put him in contrast to the teachers of the law, this should not be seen as a quantitative assessment; this is not a comparison of who gives the best sermons. Their feelings about this contrast suggest a qualitative difference, not quantitative. This qualitative difference can only be about his whole person and could not be observed merely in quantitative parts of him, like his speech or his deeds.
"Authority" is basically the
ability to control or influence the behavior of others (cf. the
centurion in Mt 8:9). Throughout the OT the prominent
perception we have of God's authority is that of power
or force. He demanded total submission (e.g., the Shema,
This is the authority now demonstrated in the incarnation. It is this qualitative difference which distinguished Jesus' authority from the others. He didn't teach with a power that merely made him better than others on a quantitative scale; that wasn't his purpose, even in issues of truth. His authority didn't speak of truths for doctrine but truths of the essence of God, his God person, the Father, all for relationship with him. This exousia was about his whole person, not his teachings or the way he taught. As this God person vulnerably shared his true and whole self, what emerged is the qualitative difference of the very life of God.
Jesus' didache is about the whole person and intimate relationships. His words are not about truths to keep in a quantitative box and used to separate us from others in false inequality. That's what some Sadducees tried to do with Jesus in another situation, in which Jesus again amazed the crowds with his didache (see Mt 22:23-33). Jesus told the Sadducees that they were in error (Gk. planao, deceived, deluded) because they didn't know (oida) Scripture (v.29). Though they studied Scripture, oida gives us the sense that they essentially didn't know it internally. Their knowledge deluded them to think they knew what truth was all about. Truth is for relationship.
The Pharisees also thought they grasped truth by codifying the law with an expanded set of standards, list of rules and rigorous behaviors. Essentially, they tried to quantify truth with this reductionist system; and their quantitative focus turned those practices into a self-serving end (albeit a religious end), not the means for relationship. This misuse of truth is an ongoing issue whenever truth becomes the criterion for separation from others (on a vertical scale or in horizontal distance) rather than for relationship. Jesus would put the truth into full perspective for us with his didache.
How we see the truth and use the truth are basic for discipleship formation. This issue directly involves the law and the gospel of grace--issues which determine our practice and experience in the Christian life, as Jesus strongly revealed in a previous encounter (Jn 8:31-47). Throughout church history law and gospel have been related in different ways. Keeping the proper balance between law and gospel has been difficult, if not in theology most certainly in practice. Imbalance in this relationship produces some form of either antinomianism or legalism and moralism.
Antinomianism so strongly emphasizes Christian freedom from condemnation by the law that it underemphasizes daily accountability for sin and the ongoing pursuit of sanctification. One consequence of this approach is a tendency toward moral looseness or neglect. Yet, the real issue here is not one of moral responsibility (however important) but one of relational involvement with others, as noted in the last chapter about independence and individualism (a form of antinomianism). While moralism and legalism apparently have been more prominent than antinomianism since the beginning of the Reformation, we seem to be witnessing a hybrid developed between them among some conservative evangelicals. This is the combination of the freedom of individualism with a selective or limited moralism (which we will discuss later as based on an inadequate view of God and actually a weak view of sin).
Despite ongoing conflicts with secularism, relativism, pluralism, among others B not to mention individualism--we need to examine how we use truth. As much as Jesus declared the truth in adversarial situations, it was always to clarify the way and to define the life--the way to the Father, the truth of the Father, the life with the Father. Truth as Jesus incarnated is always for relationship. He doesn't want us to be doctrinaire with the truth of his didache. That's not why we have Truth, his person. Discipleship needs to understand the purpose and function of truth.
In the postmodern mind-set (or worldview where it has become such) truth is not important. This is obviously a mistake, as the countercultural revolution of the '60s-'70s experienced. But much of the emphasis on truth today also suffers from error because its emphases depend on the presuppositions and biases of modernism, thus limiting truth to only quantitative dimensions and their analysis. What has been reduced from truth and de-emphasized (even lost) in the process are the qualitative dimensions of truth. This, in my opinion, is the main reason for the postmodern reaction to the issue of truth.
These qualitative dimensions are the personal (subjective as subject in contrast to objective as object) and experiential (inner as well as relational) aspects which are basic to our humanity but more difficult to quantify with the paradigms of modernism. The qualitative side of the total person (i.e., heart) and of all relationships (i.e., intimacy) have functionally diminished because of the reductionism of the person and its consequences on relationships. These everyday manifestations are characteristic of the lifestyle resulting from modernism but are rooted in Adam and Eve's behavior in the garden.
Truth east of Eden always suffers this reductionism--particularly in how we define ourselves and therefore present ourselves, as well as how we do relationships and the primacy we give them as a consequence. When Jesus identified truth as his person (Jn. 14:6), he restored the qualitative dimensions of truth. Truth doesn't stand alone here because truth is for relationship. Of further significance, he as the Truth is combined with and sandwiched between the Way and the Life (zoe, not bios). In Jesus' vulnerable person is the means (the Way: the access to the relational process), the structure (the Truth: the definition and conditions of the process) and the substance (the Life: the outcome of the process) of intimate relationship with the Father and participation in his life complete as his family. This is the gospel Jesus brought.
Truth cannot and should not be separated from Way and Life because they are all relationship-specific. They are not mutually exclusive but were incarnated together to reveal the substance of God and what is relationally significant to the Father. This is all a totally relational process because it's all only for relationship. That's why the use of truth apart from the qualitative difference of God has no importance to him, even for maintaining doctrinal purity (cf. Rev 2:2-4). Truth must be restored to the person, life and way of Jesus as incarnated. Discipleship needs to see and embrace the Word made flesh and vulnerably revealed in the law and the gospel.
To understand the incarnation of truth is critical for the necessary balance between law and gospel in our practice. Similar to our discussion earlier of the cross becoming an end in itself instead of the means for relationship with the Father, the quantitative preoccupation with truth turns this truth into an end instead of the relational means. The resulting moralism or legalism is functionally no different from antinomianism in that they all suffer the relational consequences of not being intimately involved with the Truth (in the Way, for the Life). The relational consequences are both with God and others.
The misuse of truth as well as the neglect or avoidance of it are untenable for authentic discipleship. The reduction of truth either way will diminish the qualitative practice distinguishing his disciples. What then is the specific purpose and function of truth?
In the OT the psalmist asks God for his light and truth and to let them lead him to where God is--not just to a holy place where God dwells but to God himself (Ps 43:3). The Hebrew term for truth (emet) denotes God's faithfulness, that is, one you can count on to be who he is. The relational function of truth is evident here.
In the NT there is a strategic shift of God's presence from a place (e.g., his dwelling in the tabernacle) to the vulnerable incarnation of his person. God not only sent light but came himself as the Light (Jn 1:4; 3:19), "full of grace and truth" (Jn 1:14, the OT renders this combination as "unfailing love and faithfulness"). While light has quantitative properties, the light emits who God is and his qualitative difference; therefore, the light contrasts those who are not of him and in darkness (Jn 3:19,20). Truth functions in the light because it reflects who God is, that is, truth always points and leads to God, just as the psalmist asked (Jn 3:21). Truth, as incarnated by Jesus, serves this relational purpose and functions for the relational process.
The balanced emphasis on the qualitative dimensions of truth does not disregard the objective basis for truth. Such quantitative dimensions must not be discounted, nor be our preoccupation if we are to prevent truth from becoming merely an end. Truth must be for relationship; and as the means for relationship truth needs to be used in three specific interrelated areas:
truth is the basis by which we know who God is, what
he is as well as how he is (Jn 14:6, aletheia,
truth, reality, fact--from alethes, true, real,
authentic). The truth about God, as noted earlier from the OT,
denotes his faithfulness--that is, one we can count on to be
who he is (real), what he is (authentic), how he is (true to his
nature and word). This truth is not merely in spoken word or
written word but now revealed in vulnerable heart and flesh. Incarnated truth is not merely a proposition to distinguish its
opposite (falsehood, error, wrong). That often becomes an end in
itself practiced in a form of legalism. Truth is vulnerably
revealed to us in the God person Jesus so we can indeed know
God directly, not just know about God for knowledge and
information but so that we can have intimate relationship with
the Father. Truth is the relational means to the real,
authentic true God. We need to distinguish this function of
truth from only the presence of true doctrine. When we use truth
as objective information and quantitative facts for our primary
emphasis, we reduce the relationship to a secondary position. This often subtle shift (as the church at Ephesus discovered,
Rev 2:4) puts us in conflict with the strategic shift of God's
presence in the incarnation. Essentially, then, such truth
becomes something to possess (albeit important) but less as the
relational means to be with God.
truth is not only the basis for God but also the basis for
our authentic person and who, what, how we are. Truth tells us both the person we really are plus when we are
indeed functioning as that person. This truth of our self
interrelates with the truth of God and also makes it the basis
for relationship (Jn 4:23). In Psalm 15, David describes who is
involved with God. One defining characteristic is that this
person "speaks the truth from the heart" (v.2)--what David didn't practice with God in relation to Bathsheba that created
distance from his heart (his true self) and from God (in his
true being). This truth (Heb. emet) expresses one's
faithfulness, integrity as one who can be counted on to be
authentic in the relationship. If we can't really present our
self to God (and others) in this honest way, what we do present
cannot be counted on to reflect (or reveal) our true person. The
difficulty in presenting our real self, of course, has existed
since Adam and Eve and only reflects our enslavement from which
we need to be redeemed. Yet, truth doesn't just tell us about
our total person and then leave it up to us to function as that
person. The truth of self also needs to work with the means of
truth provided by God for our relational involvement with him. That is, the Truth is the relational means by which we are
liberated from our enslavements for the specific relational
purpose and outcome that we can be adopted as his son or
daughter, intimately belonging to his family permanently
(Jn 8:31-36). But knowing the Truth is a relational
process of intimate involvement with him, not his doctrine; and
he has provided us with the Spirit of truth to help us with the
honest relational work in this process (Jn 14:16; 15:26; 16:13). Furthermore, our relational involvement with the Truth (and his
word, logos, essence, person) will transform us from the
reality of our old person to the experiential
authenticity of our new person (Jn 17:17). And this new
person is not only for one's individual benefit but for the
benefit of others also. Truth is always for relationship--first
with God, then with others.
Third, truth is, therefore, also the relational means for quality relationships with others. This is particularly important for relationships among God's family members (the church) but it extends to all relationships. Paul expands our discussion of the importance of presenting our authentic self to others (Eph 4:25) because this is what reflects the truth of the new person we are and the truth of God's being (Eph 4:21-24). The quality of relationships goes beyond being honest with one's true self. Truth extends deeper (based on God's involvement with us) to reflect also the qualitative difference of God in how he wants us to be involved with others: agape involvement. "Speaking the truth in love" (agape) is absolutely vital for the development and maturity of God's family (Eph 4:15). The church cannot fulfill its purpose without the function of truth relationally exercised in agape involvement with one another in the church and with others in the world. Truth is not an end to use as quantitative criteria to differentiate ourselves from others (like moralism) but a relational means to be involved with them--authentically, without falsehood or role-playing.
Truth is always for quality relationship. Whenever the presence of truth in our practice stops short of this relational purpose and function, we can expect to find either the misuse of truth or its neglect.
More specifically, truth is for relationships of love. We cannot separate the practice of love from the truth. When Paul said earlier "speaking the truth in love" (Eph 4:15), this was in contrast to being inconsistent, wishy-washy, laboring in relativism (v.14). Yet, we can't swing to the other extreme by becoming doctrinaire with the truth as an end in itself. The purpose of truth is first and foremost to restore relationship, then to build relationship; its function is to define the relational process and to enable persons to authentically experience its relational outcome. Thus, in its process truth requires the qualitative difference of God, the quality of love, agape involvement. Truth by itself does not distinguish Christ's disciples but agape love does (Jn 13:35).
Paul practiced in the church what he preached to the church. One important example of the use of truth with love for the purpose of relationship was Paul's confrontation of Peter (Gal 2:11ff). Though Peter's theological doctrine denying access to the gospel of grace for the Gentiles was clearly corrected earlier by Jesus (see Acts 10), Peter nevertheless had trouble practicing the necessary balance between law and gospel. The reduction of the truth was involved in this situation (Gal 2:4,5). Peter fell into this reductionism with the relational consequence of separating himself from the Gentiles (v.12) and with further relational repercussions of presenting himself with a false front (v.13, Gk. hypokrisis) such that others joined him in his hypocrisy (even Barnabas). Paul used the truth to confront Peter in love for the purpose of relationship and the relational integrity of the church (vv.14ff). As Paul later summed up the issue, the only thing that was important was the relational work (faith) of agape involvement (5:6).
One could misconstrue Paul here to
mean that we are free from the restrictions of the law, thus
creating an imbalance skewed toward freedom (or relational
The person and words of Jesus are the Way, the Truth and the Life which define the terms for relationship and the relational responsibilities inherent to relationships in God's design and purpose. Authentic discipleship is involved in the specific relational context and engages the qualitative relational process vulnerably established by Jesus.
As noted earlier, Wilkins makes a case for Matthew's Gospel being a manual for discipleship with his frequent reference to mathetes (disciple). Yet, John's Gospel seems to expand the depth of the incarnation in God's revelation of himself and the breadth of following Jesus to the context of the Big Picture. While Matthew's Gospel is specific about the disciples (mathetai, plural), John's is broader and serves somewhat as the axis for the rest of the NT to depend or build on, especially regarding faith. Discipleship cannot be selective of these narratives and must be inclusive of the narratives of his whole person and complete words.
But all Christian practice must subscribe to his summary words (didache) known as the Sermon on the Mount. This authoritative discourse distills the basic life of those who follow Jesus and call him Lord and is the primer for the necessary culture distinguishing God's people. Discipleship formation simply does not happen without it. Like his early disciples, we need to go to him and let him teach us (Gk. didasko, essentially to change us for relationship, just as he is, Mt 5:1,2).
The pivotal section in his teaching is when Jesus declares his position on the law and the rest of the OT (Mt 5:17,18). The tone is set for this body of truth when Jesus didn't abolish (Gk. katalyo) the law--that is, dissolve its presence and demolish its responsibility and thus release (free) us from the law. The truth of the gospel did not get rid of the law but fulfills (Gk. pleroo, to fill, fully satisfy) the law; Jesus accomplished this with the further purpose of his followers also fulfilling the relational responsibility of it with others. His radical teachings do not imply some otherworldly ethics separated from our existing way of life, nor about a process only for the future. Along with the terms of relationship which he outlines at the beginning of this discourse to be discussed shortly (5:3-12), Jesus defines that responsibility.
Like the truth, the law of God is for relationship but the Pharisees and teachers of the law reduced it to codes of external behavior, the practice of which was only self-serving (5:19,20). In contrast (and conflict) with their reductionism, Jesus establishes the fullness of God's law by defining its deeper meaning and relational purpose. He sums this up with the so-called Golden Rule (7:12); and our righteousness must surpass theirs (5:20). This relational purpose and function of truth, the practice of the law and the following of the gospel have to surpass what others have reduced it to. It will, not in quantity (exceeding the rigorous Pharisees) but in quality (rising above them), when the qualitative difference of who, what and how God is in relationship reflects in who, what and how we are in our relationships.
When Jesus definitively said our righteousness needs to surpass theirs, it is important for us to think in contrary terms, not comparative terms. Their righteousness was a product of reductionism based on the quantitative indicators of their outward behavior. We have a tendency to perceive of righteousness not necessarily as an explicit product of reductionism but nevertheless associated with certain outward behavior. Whether one considers oneself righteous depends on the presence or absence of that behavior. Likewise, Christians often only think about moral quantity in relation to being holy, not moral quality. Contrary to this is the righteousness of God.
Righteousness (Gk. dikaiosyne) is the essence of that which is just or of one who is just, righteous (dikaios). Being dikaios means to conform in actions to one's constitutionally just character; therefore, it is expected and what can be counted on to be. "God is righteous" essentially means he is in conformity with what and who he is. For us generally, his covenant is the ultimate functional expression of his righteousness. It is readily apparent that God acts on his covenant because God is righteous (or just) in his dealings with his people--that is, he is in conformity with his character (Ps 89:33-37). This is what we can expect of God and can count on him to be. God is not the covenant, but the covenant is God, and only a partial expression of what God is.
The law is not the covenant either; it is only the charter for the covenant. When we observe the law (or forms of it) in order to define us or to measure up, we in effect function like a legalist and make the law the covenant. This is reductionism, and it enslaves us to what we do. This also fails to understand the relational process involved in the law for the relational purpose of the covenant: intimate relationship with God. As this is put into proper perspective, it all points to what, who and how God is.
Whenever we inadvertently reduce the essence of God from this process, we are left with propositional truths, teachings, standards, codes to which to conform to be "righteous." This is a quantitative substitute rather than the qualitative difference of being with God and like him. The latter is the authentic righteousness which conforms to what, who and how God is. A quantitative substitute of righteousness basically focuses on me and what we do (e.g., moral quantity) while the qualitative focuses on God and relationship with him. This is why God loves righteousness and justice (same Heb. term for both, saddiyq, Ps 11:7).
Being righteous is not merely about displaying character traits. Righteousness is not about merely practicing an ethic of right and wrong. It's about relationship B what, who and how to be in relationships--relationship with him and relationships with others as he designed, redeemed and restored for his creation in general and for his family in particular. This is the authentic righteousness that is contrary to and surpasses those who reduce righteousness, the law, and therefore God, to quantitative terms.
This section (Mt 5:17-20) is the foundation on which discipleship formation must be based and the direction it needs to take. From this pivotal point we can work ourselves back to the beginning of this requisite primer for discipleship.
Our identity serves to tell us who and what we are, and from this we can present that person to others. A lot can go into forming an identity. No moment in time, singular situation or association adequately defines an identity; its formation is an ongoing process of trial and error, change, development and maturation. Just as the early disciples struggled with their identity, the formation of our identity is critical for discipleship in order to establish confidence as his disciples and to distinguish ourselves before others.
Despite the identity crises which seem to be a routine part of identity formation, Jesus focuses us on two major issues making our identity problematic (Mt 5:13-16):
-- The first issue is
in not presenting ourselves in our true identity as light
(vv.14,15). Identity becomes ambiguous when what we present of
ourselves is different from what we truly are. Or this ambiguity
occurs when what we present is a mixture of two or more
-- The second issue is shallowness in our identity, which may have the right appearance in our presentation but not the substance, just like the salt without its substantive quality (v.13). Shallowness is guaranteed when we define ourselves by an outer-in approach as opposed to an inner-out process. Subtle examples of this approach include defining ourselves by the roles we perform, the titles we have, even by the spiritual gifts we have and/or exercise.
These two issues need our serious attention and have to be addressed for authentic discipleship to emerge. Identity formation can become ambiguous or be specific. Popular Christian identity is ambiguous, for example, when a prevailing culture and biblical culture are not clearly distinguished. Authentic discipleship identity is a relationship-specific process engaged in the practice of biblical culture. Lucidity of our identity is rooted in what we are in functional relationship with Christ and who we become intimately with the Father in his family together.
This light and salt are the
relational outcome of this intimate relationship. Any identity
formed while distant from this relationship or in competition with
this relationship diminishes the fundamental identity of being God's very own (the light) as well as deteriorates its qualitative
substance (the salt). Certainly, then, the authentic presentation of
self is crucial to his disciple's identity. The alternative of
obscuring our light is an issue directly related to Jesus'
warning to be acutely aware of falling into the mind-set of a
Pharisee (Lk 12:1; Mt. 16:6). This approach (alternative didache,
Furthermore, any identity rooted only in the practice of the truth and his law without being relationally connected (cf. "vine and branches") and ongoingly intimately involved ("remain in me," Jn 15) is not an authentic identity of his followers. The salt without its substantive quality is directly related to the issue of basically undergoing only outward change (metaschematizo). No amount of this outer-in approach to what and who we are will yield qualitative substance (metamorphoo) because that is the nature of a shallow identity--no depth of relationship with God despite even considerable identification with his truth, law and gospel.
"You are the salt . . . the light." This is a definitive statement of our identity and what we are in Jesus Christ. In contrast to how these verses are commonly used, this is not a challenge about what to do but it is a further call about what to be. Their function is all about relationship: first, intimate relationship with Jesus and what we become in that relationship as we are taken to the Father; secondly, relationship with others as we exercise our relational responsibility because of who and what we are in Christ and how we represent the Father as his children. Salt and light lose their function when they miss out on the qualitative difference of God experienced in intimate relationship, thus are not being transformed in this qualitative substance, and therefore are unable to share it with others.
The process of identity formation is crucial for all Christians. How do we ensure that we are involved in the complete process as well as engaging him in deeper relationship? For authentic identity to emerge, develop and mature, we now go back to the beginning of Jesus' primer for discipleship: the beatitudes (Mt 5:3-12).
The beatitudes taken together establish the identity for his disciple. Rather than each beatitude understood independently, they constitute interdependent characteristics of the basic identity for all Christians in what, who and how we are. Jointly the beatitudes form the outline of the process of identity formation; and it starts by giving us no basis to define ourselves by what we do or have.
Jesus doesn't explicitly state the absolute importance of the heart in the beginning of this discourse but the heart underlies everything he says and all that we do (e.g., Mt 6:21). The inner person (heart) is the most important part of us, and we cannot evaluate what a person is based on the outer person (cf. Mt 15:10-20). Authentic Christian identity essentially becomes the process of redefinition of our self from "the inside out." When we address redefining our person from the inside out, however, we encounter a major difficulty. What is it that I honestly see of my self as I look inside? This can become an issue we may rather dance around.
First Beatitude--In the first three beatitudes (Mt 5:3-5) Jesus provides us
with the critical steps
in the process of transformation and identity formation. When we
honestly look inside at our self, Jesus said we should be "poor in spirit" (v.3).
"Poor" (Gk. ptochos) means abject
poverty and utter helplessness; therefore this person's only
recourse is to beg. Just to be poor (Gk. penes) is different
from ptochos because this person can still, for example, go
out to work for food. Penes may have little, but ptochos
has nothing at all. Ptochos, Jesus said, is the true
condition of our humanity. We are not only imperfect and sinful but
inadequate and weak. This is
how God sees us; this is what we need to accept about our self.
Second Beatitude--From this starting point Jesus continues, that if we are
then our response will be to "mourn" (v.4, Gk. pentheo,
lament, grieve, deep sadness). If our condition truly is ptochos,
not penes, then mourning would be the natural response of our
heart. Yet, too often we insulate ourselves from such feelings. In
terms of how we see and feel about ourselves, issues of self-worth
revolve around ptochos. We don't usually recognize this
because our heart is not aware of feeling pentheo (grief,
deep sadness), only feeling insecure. Essentially, Jesus said:
need to open our heart and expose the pentheo by fully
acknowledging, admitting, confessing our ptochos. (This may
include seeing the condition of humanity in general.) More
specifically, these are not persons, for example, who try to be
strong, self-determined, self-sufficient. They come to God for
comfort, healing, cleansing, forgiveness, whatever, so they can
experience his intimate response ("they will be comforted," Gk.
parakaleo, term used for every kind of call to a person which is
intended to produce a particular effect).
Third Beatitude--The actual experience of this relational reality is not so
much a linear process as it is reflexive
(back and forth). Since God ongoingly demonstrates that we can trust
him intimately, the initial experiences of his family love
rightfully conclude with only one perception of our self. This perception forms
the foundational characteristic of the
redefined self, the identity of the new person in Christ. Jesus
reveals this in the third beatitude as "the meek" (v.5, Gk.
praus), which means gentle--that is, not hard or resistant to
live as one really is. The term praus involves the inner
attitude and outer behavior of one who demonstrates what he/she
truly is. Contrary to most images of "meek," this is not timid
weakness but humble power, truth of character based on one's true
condition. How exactly this may be expressed or displayed can be
described best by the variety of Jesus' behaviors with others. Whatever the form in a particular situation, the important matter is
that there is no lie or
illusion about the self in being meek.
Fourth Beatitude--The relational progression implicit in the beatitudes leads us
to the next identity characteristic: "hunger and thirst for righteousness" (Mt. 5:6). In experiencing the first three
beatitudes and intimate connection with Jesus while being taken to
the Father to become a part of his very own family, we need to
understand the fourth beatitude in this relational process and the
context of adoption.
Fifth Beatitude--Being the relational object of his loving responses and experiencing further intimate
relationship together cannot remain a private and solely individual
matter. If it becomes contained to the personal level, it will be
enslaving, not redeeming and transforming. Thus, the fifth beatitude
naturally follows (5:7). With the mercy (Gk. eleos,
compassion) received from God, his authentic disciples become
personal witnesses (as intimate adopted children) and now direct
donors of that mercy to others. The compassionate (eleemon)
is a given characteristic in identity formation, not an option; and
that person is blessed (fully satisfied) because they are fulfilling
God's design and purpose for his creation, plus the recipients of
further compassion themselves.
Sixth Beatitude--We should never assume the ongoing condition of our heart nor the state of our relationship with
God. Intimate relationship on his terms requires an ongoing process
of our hearts open and coming together. As noted earlier, the common
and the Uncommon are incompatible for relationship. This
necessitates the ongoing transformation to a pure (Gk. katharos,
clean, clear) heart. A heart clear of any relational barriers or
distance, clean of Satan's lies, our substitutes and illusions,
this heart will continue to "see God" (5:8). "See" (Gk.
implies more than the mere act of seeing but involves more
intensively to experience, partake of, or share in something, be in
the presence of something and be affected by it. This depth and
substance of relationship is the intimate process of hearts
vulnerable to each other and coming together in deeper involvement. When our ongoing experience (not necessarily continuous) with God is
not horao, we need to examine honestly where our heart is. If, for example, we don't dance around our
ptochos and pentheo, our heart responds with greater trust and intimacy. It
is only when we deny or bury this part of our self that we
effectively keep relational distance from God. The early disciples
struggled with heart issues and thus had difficulty seeing (horao)
God even in Jesus' presence (Jn 14:7-9). Without a clean and clear
heart there will be shallowness in our identity formation. We must
also never underestimate Satan's effort to distance us from our
heart nor be unaware of the subtle presence and working of his lies. Lies and illusions keep us from the truth about our self, with the
relational consequence of not living intimately connected to God in
relationship. This sixth beatitude is the contingency
characteristic for our identity.
Seventh Beatitude--It is not enough for his adopted children to share mercy (compassion) with others. To
represent the Father and to continue to extend his family involves a
deeper level of involvement identified in this next beatitude as "the peacemakers" (5:9). This is not merely an effort to reduce
violence, stop war or create the absence of conflict. "Peacemaker"
(Gk. eirenopoios) means a reconciler, one who seeks the
well-being of others. This means not only to stop conflict but to
restore relationships, just as the Father and his Son do. Reconciliation of all his creation is the Father's deepest desire
(Col 1:19,20). And being reconcilers is the adoptee's
responsibility that fully represents the Father and extends his
family. That's why such peacemakers are identified as his sons and
Eighth Beatitude--Along with the benefits and responsibilities of belonging to
his family as one of his very own come
repercussions. These are the relational reactions by others to the
practicing representatives of the Father's relational
righteousness. This eighth and last beatitude is the consequence of
the distinguishing character identifying his people. As the prophets
and Jesus experienced, the repercussions (persecutions) and
reactions are part of the territory of being in his family (kingdom)
and intimately involved with the Uncommon (5:10-12). This may be a
difficult identity characteristic to embrace, and we may also have a
tendency to limit it to unique situations. Yet, we need to realize
that not only is the uncommon incompatible with the common but in
conflict with it also. Relational reactions from the common will
come in all forms and varying degrees as long as the uncommon
extends itself to the common with a critique of hope. We might call
this the consequential characteristic of our identity. While
the prestige of this identity aspect may not be apparent, the
privilege of being clearly identified with him and as one of his own
children must not be lost in our identity formation
These interdependent characteristics together form our basic identity in what, who and how we are as followers of Christ. They are only, however, the outline of the process of identity formation. Functionally, this process opens our heart to the redefinition of self which Jesus brought, freed us to live, and established us in by his earthly life (person and words), death and resurrection. In the process, he is the one who redeems us from the old and transforms us to the new. The process is ongoing (as well as reflexive) in its development and maturation. As the identity issues of ambiguity and shallowness become resolved, our identity takes on a distinct presence before others and in the world. That's why Jesus can make such a definitive statement that we are the salt and the light.
The remaining sections of the Sermon on the Mount address the function of this new identity and specific practices of the redefined self. While Jesus' didache was not a departure from the existing teachings related to God's law, they definitely had a character previously unseen by God's people. These sections contain very specific examples in everyday life. The examples involve how we do relationships with others, how we define ourselves and how we're involved with God--examples with which Jesus is in conflict. These examples, in fact, are uncomfortably close to our own practices today. What they reflect is that there was basically an established way to do things, which Jesus countered with his teachings.
Whether or not those who were amazed at the conclusion of his discourse understood his conflict with their prevailing ways, they certainly must have realized it later. One could not become amazed or excited about the man or his teachings without eventually coming to the realization that: (1) what he is and what he says both stand in conflict with those prevailing norms; (2) his teachings cannot be combined nor neutrally coexist with those norms; thus, (3) any explicit or implicit acceptance of those norms puts us in conflict with Jesus and his teachings; so (4) we cannot justifiably be selective in what we want to practice of his teachings and what we still want to maintain of those norms; and (5) embracing his didache necessitates a corresponding rejection of those prevailing norms. This is what makes the Sermon on the Mount so difficult to embrace without taking specific verses (such as 5:13; 6:33; 7:12) out of the context of his total discourse. The tension or conflict here becomes seeing Jesus through the lens of our predispositions and biases while wanting relationship with God on our terms.
Next to each prevailing norm or established way, Jesus introduces his contrary alternative with the declaration "I tell you" (5:20,22,26,28,32,34,39,44; 6:2,5,16,25,29; 7:23); whether these contrasts are also a pedagogical means, they certainly are a critique of hope for the redemption from substitutes involving less and the transformation to more. Jesus declared strong opposition to many of the religious values, practices and institutions of his day--and, by application, of our day.
The importance of "an established way to do things" is a critical issue in understanding Jesus' discourse. We know that the established patterns of the Pharisees were legalistic, rigid in their thinking and self-serving in their religious practices. What may not be as apparent is that their established ways would involve quite a loss to them if changed. This loss underlies much of their resistance to Jesus.
The essential nature of their established way of life was a merit system. They interpreted God's law as a code to keep for their own righteousness. By doing so they also established further codes, patterns, ways of doing things, the keeping of which would merit certain prestige, privilege or power. This kind of system generates a highly competitive context (in which Jesus was a threat) where values and practices are exercised for self-serving purposes--much like Western contexts today. Any merit system negatively impacts how we basically define ourselves, what we essentially practice in relationships, how we see God and are involved with him. These are the specific issues Jesus addresses in this discourse which makes it uncomfortable to take totally to heart.
The conflicts Jesus declares and the contrasts he constitutes throughout this discourse are fundamental to the life of God and his desires and purpose for his family. Any resistance to them reflects the issue we have with change--resisting change from our established ways because of our investment in them. Change will always be an issue if it involves loss rather than the transformation to more.
When Jesus declared "But I tell you" (5:22,28,32,34,39,44), he brought forth the substantive meaning of the law and the prophets. The letter of the law was the prevailing norm in his day. That practice, however, operated essentially as a system of constraints to keep them from negative acts, without any responsibility for further action. Inevitably, in the process this kind of system focused on outward behavior, not the substance behind it; and it created a process of life practices which served as an end for oneself rather than as a means to be involved with God and others.
In contrast, Jesus opened up the spirit of the law for which to be responsible. This certainly made the practice of God's law much more involving of our total person, if not demanding. Yet, this further responsibility was not given to burden or constrain us. It represents positive relational opportunities to grow in our new person. The interrelated focus between the total person and relationships always emerges in Jesus' person and words because they are fundamental to who, what and how God is. As he reveals this here, he is giving us understanding of the primary purpose behind all of God's directives, the very heart of God's desires for his people. The spirit of the law conforms to the essence of God and his desires.
We need to understand in our Christian practice where inadvertent alternatives or substitutes have replaced the qualitative substance Jesus presents. Two of the overriding and far-reaching effects of many established ways of doing things (past and present) are: (1) it gives more emphasis to secondary aspects of life than to the primary aspects, and as a result, (2) it does not give top priority to interpersonal relationships. The consequence directly or indirectly for all of us--even if we don't subscribe to this--is that the quality of life is forfeited and substituted with the quantities of life.
An underlying concern the Pharisees and scribes had was about doing the "right" thing. Their approach with the letter of the law, however, functioned only to keep them from negative acts; it did not serve to lead them to positive action. As illustrated by the examples Jesus raised (5:21-48), they felt they fulfilled their duty as long as they maintained the limited responsibility defined by the letter--that is, merely avoiding overt negative behavior. Murder and adultery, for example, were only defined literally (by the letter); the deeper implications of God's design and purpose for these relational principles were not embraced and probably not even considered. Obviously, refraining from negative behavior has some value, but the absence of positive action is of greater importance to God. As the counterpart to legalism, even moralism is not the righteousness God expects from us. Even at best, the moral quantity of moralism only focuses on what Christ saved us from without addressing what he saved us to. Moralists and legalists are misled in thinking that conforming to the letter is conforming to God's desires and therefore to who, what, how he is. This is a reductionist view of God that effectively puts him in a box and redefines relationship with him on one's own terms.
One major effect of this approach to life is to increasingly focus on the outward dimensions of one's action or, essentially, the priority of doing over being--that is, what we do and how we do it over what we are and how we are. Personal responsibility becomes limited to the external presence or absence of certain activity. Outward presentation then occupies the main emphasis. In other words, what is truly OK is substituted with what appears to be OK; it doesn't necessarily matter whether image is consistent with reality, whether what truly exists is not what appears to be.
These are practices from reductionism which not only fall short of God's righteousness but become contradictory (by outside-in approach) to what God is (heart) and how he is (inner-out). When this happens, the purpose and function behind God's commandments are lost to one's concern to do the "right" thing; or that purpose and function are constrained in one's narrow definitions of God's commandments. In the relational consequences of the latter, for example, "an eye for an eye" leaves no room to make a positive response to those who unjustly treat you. Functionally in everyday practice, within the limits of this approach, there is no opportunity for quality relationships, no importance for the total person and, indeed, no room to love.
There is no greater issue to God than how we do relationships. Relationship is God's nature and intimate relationship is unique ultimately to the Godhead. The issue began after creation in the garden, extended east of Eden through the covenant to the incarnation. Throughout all this, God has done everything for relationships, his desires focus only on relationship, and what he has planned ahead (here and in the future) is for relationships. So, God is possessed with how we do relationships; and how we do relationships emerges from how we define our self.
Contrary to the quantitative focus of the letter, the spirit of the law returns us to the qualitative importance of the law. This perspective reveals the substantive difference of God and his design and purpose for life.
As we previously discussed in various areas, the heart clearly emerges throughout Jesus' teachings as more important than the mind, though not at the exclusion of the mind. Jesus also demonstrated the importance of the heart in how he lived and interacted with persons. This is not an argument for an anti-intellectual position; the thoughtful mind is always necessary. It is, however, a position against intellectualism and the dependence on the process of rationalism to establish one's life, which involve the practice of reductionism. Modernism has made us susceptible to these tendencies, either directly as a worldview or indirectly with its influence on our established ways of doing things.
When our faith becomes dominated by the workings of the mind, then the substance of the heart and how God created us for relationship are reduced (if not lost) in faith's application and practice. Even the pronouncements of correct doctrine or the presence of a very active, successful church are not sufficient to fill this gap without this vital qualitative dimension (as noted earlier about the church at Ephesus, Rev 2). Spiritual hunger and thirst, if recognized, involve the void or the unmet needs deep in our heart, and they seek to satisfy the eternity-substance God planted in the heart. The search for spirituality is an effort to recover our heart; and authentic spiritual formation reestablishes our heart with God.
As the center of our being, the heart is more than the emotional base for our feelings; it is also the spiritual locus around which the depth and quality of everyday life is lived. This seems somewhat abstract but its effects are distinctly realized, if not always explainable. Invariably, distance or detachment from our heart has serious repercussions--most notably in the depth and quality of our relationships. (That's why Satan's goal for Christians is to distance us from our hearts.) As long as we distance or detach our heart in this way, being vulnerable becomes a place to avoid; and the overuse of the mind is the main comfort zone utilized to keep us from vulnerability. Some Christians justify a rationalized approach because of skepticism or caution about feelings becoming too important an element in determining our faith. Yet, Jesus is not leading us into subjectivism, or to antinomianism. With the guidance as well as the critique of the invariable objective Word, Jesus is demonstrating to us the qualitative substance of how God created us and what he desires for us to experience.
Contrary to many of our established ways, the mind should work in accord with the heart, not against it. They are not mutually exclusive, yet one can dominate or obscure the other. In God's created design and purpose, just as being is the antecedent for doing, the heart takes precedence over the mind. By revealing and making primary the qualitative dimension of the spirit of the law, Jesus pointedly shared the deep meaning of God's desires for his people. As we reflect on the various examples Jesus set forth to illustrate the principle of the spirit of the law (5:21-48), they unequivocally reveal the primary purpose God has for his people: relationships.
In this discourse Jesus countered the established ways of doing relationships with a process of person-involved relationships, the depths of which can be very threatening to us as it was to the Pharisees and scribes. We cannot practice the spirit of the law while distant or detached from our heart. The spirit of the law takes an inner-out approach (as opposed to outer-in of the letter of the law) that requires the heart involvement of my total person as well as the perception of others in their total person from inner-out. We don't truly see our person or other persons without this inner-out approach. Yet, the importance of the heart can be a blessing or a threat. With the spirit of the law Jesus revealed to us: one, what it means to love; two, the intimate relational process of love; and, three, the dignity and integrity of the persons involved in this process. All of these can touch our insecurities, confront our comfort zones and defense mechanisms, while challenging us to change from the old to the new, because these all deal with the issues in our heart. Those issues, of course, make us vulnerable; and how threatened we are depends on how much we want to change in order to experience the more of the new.
Unlike what is implicit in defining oneself by what one does, Jesus doesn't want us to be scared of doing the wrong thing. Likewise, he wasn't concerned so much about his disciples always doing the right thing. His primary concern and desires for our practice are to give priority to our relationships and to the persons involved in them. In this Jesus wants us to love, yet his way, not ours.
At the same time, Jesus wasn't relieving us of responsibility when he abolished the legalistic systems of his day. To the contrary, he gave us more responsibility (and opportunity). He did indeed relieve us of the burden of responsibility created by the letter of the law as a system of self-justification/righteousness. Yet, he also gave us the further responsibility of the spirit of the law. The spirit of the law does not represent merely a greater flexibility and application of God's law. Its whole design is to lead us into taking positive action in our relationships with others--namely, to care and to love. Jesus is taking us to a further and deeper level of relationships, beyond our established ways of doing relationships. It is with this in mind that he says "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (5:48); that is, as adoptees representing their Father, he defines our responsibility essentially as: "you are to relate to others as your heavenly Father relates to others, including you." His emphasis here is not on what to do but on how to be involved with others. This is the key verse for the spirit of the law.
Obviously, we cannot relate to others to the extent in quality or quantity as God does. That's not his point. Quantity, like moral quantity, is not the goal of "perfect." We can relate to others just as God does; this is not an unrealistic ideal. "Perfect" can never be the outcome of our doing (what we do and how we do it), but "perfect" (Gk. teleios, describes one who has reached its purpose, thus is full-grown, mature) can be the expression of our being--what, who and how we are as our new person in Christ. This is the qualitative difference of the Uncommon which is distinct from the common (established ways), thus distinguishing those who practice this level of relationships.
What does taking positive action involve? Foremost, it involves taking a caring and loving depth of action relationally toward the other person. Depth and relationally are key qualifying words. Positive action must always connect with the other person in the context of the relationship, not merely as an activity or as some deed as an end in itself. Further, as Jesus takes us deeper into this process of love (5:38-48), this action does not necessarily involve the expected thing to do or even the polite thing to do. Merely being nice is not the substance of care and love Jesus extends and expects; niceness does not require much of a depth of action from us. These kinds of alternatives are more from our established ways of doing relationships and become substitutes for deeper involvement. These tend to stay at the level of the mind rather than get down to the heart level. In this practice we become reduced to reactors to others' behavior ("hate your enemies," "love those who love you," "greet only your brothers") rather than being responders to the other's person with a new action of love (going deeper and beyond what the situation typically calls for).
Distance and shallowness in relationships have always been issues since Adam and Eve wore "masks" and hid in the garden. In the process down through the years we've established patterns of relationships which his people have not done a good job critiquing (historically and currently). We are so far from honesty about our fears of being vulnerable (as Adam acknowledged being afraid of his vulnerability, Gen 3:10), we are usually even unaware of those feelings. Distance in relationships is the implicit expectation we have acquiesced to and settled for B even to the extent of wanting it this way. The consequence is that we get comfortable, set in these ways and resistant to change.
Contrary to this and in conflict with it, Jesus countered how we define ourselves and do relationships. In the so-called Golden Rule (7:12), he does not tell us to treat others according to how they want to be treated, no matter what prevailing norms or conventional wisdom prescribe. T he context for this verse (7:1-12) addresses relational honesty in our involvement with others (vv.1-6) and with our Father (vv.7-11). Ironically, there is a shift in emphasis from the previous chapters that now turns the focus on ourselves first ("first take the plank out of your own eye," "ask . . . seek . . . knock").
But the key verse in this section is the Golden Rule: "so in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you." Jesus said this is the sum, what is, what the law and the prophets (God's Word) is all about. This key verse ties together with the key verse for the spirit of the law (5:48). Because of our intimate experience with God's mercy, grace and agape involvement, we know how we want to be treated. Now Jesus tells us to go forth as one who has experienced love, healing, redemption, reconciliation, wholeness and, then, to treat others as has been done (and as you want to continue) for you. This is the relational reality of the qualitative substance experienced in the new life (zoe) in Christ. God's initiative of love satisfies how we want to be loved and thus establishes our love for others (cf. Jn 13:34).
The depth and quality of the substance prescribed in the spirit of the law have no substitute or alternative. It is within this substance that the top priority of relationships will fulfill the depth of God's primary purpose for his people. In this substance, no activities, accomplishments, acquisitions or secondary things will achieve greater importance than the person and be more qualitatively satisfying for the heart. This is who we are with the Father, what we are becoming with Christ, and how we are to live with his Spirit. This is whom we represent as his adoptees, what we witness to as his disciples, and how we do ministry together as his family in the world. In contrast to reductionists, this is how our righteousness needs to be.
Authentic righteousness directly engages relationships in the presentation of self. All relationships are affected by the specific presentation each participant makes. The quality of any relationship depends on the accuracy of that presentation. Here is where righteousness needs to be conformity to what one truly is, or else we cannot have confidence in what to expect or to count on from one's person. God's righteousness is absolutely vital for our confidence in how he will be in the relationship. God cannot present himself in any other way, which is why the incarnation is the ultimate revelation of God's authenticity. How we present our self involves this issue of authenticity, and what others can expect and count on from us.
In further relational contexts, Jesus strongly expresses his conflict with the established way by using the term hypocrite (6:2,5,16; 7:5). We need to broaden our understanding of this term and address the process behind it. This is crucial because it not only reflects a prevailing norm but a mind-set operating today.
As already noted, the term hypocrite involved playing a role or taking on an identity different than one's true self. Just like an actor, this presentation of self was made to a crowd, an audience, observers--before others with interest. Jesus begins this section with a warning for living our righteousness before others "to be seen" (6:1, Gk. theaomai, to view attentively, deliberately observing an object to perceive its detail). In others words, this is a presentation to be seen and noticed by others. Related to theoreo, the observer functions as one taking in a scene or watching a drama unfold, not for what it's worth but more so from the wonderment or imagination of the observer. That is, there is a certain effect, image, even illusion, the actor seeks to establish about one's presentation of self. This practice is further addressed by Jesus in exposing their efforts "to be seen" (6:5) and "to show" (6:16) others--both using the same Greek term (phaino) in this context to indicate a contingency effort before others in the hope to become visible, be conspicuous, or essentially recognized by others for one's presentation about self.
While the term phaino comes from phos (light), there is no light in this presentation, no substantive truth, nothing apparently authentic. This is how we need to understand hypocrite today--not so much as a blatant lie or subversion of the truth but as the substitute (sometimes inadvertent) for authenticity. We all want recognition, we all need to be affirmed. When recognition and affirmation, however, become reduced to being seen by others and how others perceive our behavior, the authentic presentation of self is subjected to compromise.
Relational functions like acts of charity (6:2-4), prayer (vv.5-7) and fasting (vv.16-18) become subtly more important merely as doing something--purpose often unknowingly lost in the practice. In this outward-in approach, relational means of involvement turn into individual ends resulting in relational distance. Helping the needy is a means of giving one's self to others for greater relational involvement, prayer is a means for greater intimacy with God, fasting is a means of submission to God for deeper relationship. Instead, they are reduced to activities Christians should do, more as ends for oneself. Consequently, the objectives for these relational functions--or worship, church work, fellowship, and so on--are considered fulfilled merely by just having done the activity, especially before others. In the relational functions of prayer, fasting, worship, Bible study, the reality of such outer-in practice is that relationship with God is actually subordinated and distance is created in the process.
Reductionism deeply affects our righteousness and conformity to what we truly are in Christ because of the outer-in definition of self used as a substitute. Obviously, this translates into our relationships and how we relate to others. In a merit system such as ours, we are not only dealing with prevailing norms but an operational mind-set. Such a merit system depends on image more than authentic reality, on appearance more than substance, that is, on the visibility of one's achievements (being recognized) or on others' perceptions (illusions) of them for the achiever. In Christian practice, this includes style (e.g., of worship music) and method (e.g., of ministry). What truly exists is often not what appears to be. All of this involves a presentation of ourselves which lacks authenticity, which lacks quality, which lacks substance, which lacks the inner-out relational righteousness of God. This happens routinely with a mind-set in which the appearance of reality is substituted and settled for over the actual substance behind it.
The recognition of what we are and the affirmation of our person are qualitative issues of substance, which are in fundamental conflict with the quantitative reductionism of these issues. In our personal struggles for recognition and affirmation we have to reject those substitutes and not settle for anything less than the authentic relational substance of God. Jesus presents to us this substance in the incarnation and his didache here. Contrary to the reductionist effort to be seen he shares that our Father clearly "sees" (6:4,6,18, Gk. blepo). This term is the most basic of a word-group having to do with sight or observation; others include the terms theaomai and horao discussed earlier. Blepo denotes exercising one's capacity of sight, to look at with interest, to be distinctly aware of--suggesting intention or deliberation (cf. 5:28, the implication of blepo as a relational act).
The simple fact is our Father
"what is done in secret" (Gk.
hidden, unseen), that is, what has relational significance from the
inner-out. Our Father doesn't need to use imagination or wonderment
(like theaomai) to see what we are, nor does he need deep
contemplation (like horao) to experience how we are, as we
need to about him. Our Father simply blepo what truly exists,
so he intimately knows what, who and how we are. Then, he "will
This is our Father's intimately relationship-specific involvement with us. This is his authentic presentation of himself to us, with no substitutes and nothing less than what, who, how he truly is. Now the burden of authenticity is upon us in what, who and how we present of our self. We can count on his righteousness and we have to account for our righteousness. Discipleship formation cannot be valid without it.
As Jesus addresses us
specifically to our relationship with God, we need to grasp this
special quality of relationship which needs to characterize our
relationships with others as well. He makes eleven references
to "your Father"
Our current mind-set may not be readily open to such intimacy, especially since it's on his terms. Despite how we may deal with it, this is the truth and reality of how God feels about us and about our relationship with him--what we can count on him for. In what may be hard reading to some, in reality, is God's loving pursuit of our authentic self, our total person (as indicated in the beatitudes). Intimacy is the basis of our experience with him as well as the baseline for relationships to exercise in our involvement with others. As the relational recipients of the incarnation, it is our position of privilege and our unique prestige to have this intimacy with God; no one is worth more to him than his very own. Likewise, we have to account for intimacy in the presentation of our self because it is now within our experiential means to cultivate intimacy with others. Furthermore, it is his rightful demand of us: to relate to others as he relates and to treat others as you want to continue to be treated.
Intimacy is the crucial quality in the new relational order of life in Christ, and what we need to account for, first with our Father then with others. Yet, the mind cannot process and engage this intimacy; it is the workings of the heart. Accordingly, no amount of doing can make this intimate connection without the precedence of our being (who, what and how we truly are).
In a merit system the external perceptions of what we do and have are necessary feedback to establish one's value and worth. This emphasis, however, does not involve only the individual. For example, outer presentations, as it relates to one's self-assessment or self-image, do not involve just "looking good" but it includes by necessity "looking good in comparison to others." This comparative process is essential in establishing one's self-worth; and this issue also overlaps into the next section on judging others (7:1-5). The repercussions on relationships in this comparative process of a merit system are widespread, which will be discussed in later chapters. These relational consequences are Paul's focus in his indicting statement: "Knowledge puffs up but love builds up" (1 Cor. 8:1). In principle, this is about the merit process of reductionism in which what one has and does serves to benefit only that individual, contrary to the intimacy of agape involvement which builds up others and relationships, particularly God's family.
This begs some uncomfortable questions for us. What motivates us to get an education? What drives us to perform well in our occupations? What influences us even to get married, have a house and raise a family? Have we become more influenced by the self-serving purpose of acquiring prestige, privilege and power from these rather than utilizing them as a means to fulfill the purpose God intends for our lives? Anyone who blepo such people of faith would ask, in what do you put your everyday working trust?
In appearance, the holy trinity of our religious ways is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We can build a case, however, to support that the functional trinity of our established ways of doing things (religious or secular) is education, job and family. Without trying to diminish the importance of these three areas, we need to understand the pursuit of such goals as a prevailing norm whether it's in a religious context or other socio-cultural context. This pursuit (not the type) of education, job and family has little, if any distinction between a Christian and secular context. Their pursuit is so prevailing that it dominates our priorities, commitments and attachments. It is this control on our lives that Jesus addresses in the adjacent section of his didache (6:19-34).
These teachings reveal his direct conflict with this kind of mind-set and prevailing practices. Certainly, this does not rule out the pursuit of education, job and family. Yet, it does reject the dominant tendency to pursue them without critique, which reflects the dependence on oneself to acquire prestige, privilege and power. Jesus is not just talking about materialism, money or even providing for the basic necessities of life. He is addressing a way of life the consequence of which reduces the person to secondary matter (defined by what one has and does) and compromises trust and intimacy in relationships (particularly with the Father) for one's competitive pursuit to establish one's self-worth, to satisfy one's desires and needs, to secure one's future.
These established ways and prevailing norms are clearly counterproductive to trusting God. Conversely, trusting God is not efficient for daily practice in the mind-set of a merit system; trusting God is not considered proactive for the individual and too constraining for individualism. The intention to trust God may be there but functional trust is superseded by the priorities, commitments and attachments to the pursuit of what essentially is an alternative righteousness--the alternative and substitute from reductionism. Whether we can recognize it or not, the dominant presence and control this influence has on our lives becomes enslaving.
The issue of controlling influence on our lives is absolutely critical in relationship with God, specifically with the Father. "Your Father" is not a title nor a family figurehead but a function of relationship. This relational function, however, is not unilateral; it is only bilateral and thus reciprocal. That is, "your Father" only functions with "his son" or "his daughter." Any enslavement precludes this relational function as his child. In other words, we cannot relationally experience "our Father" without authentic living and practicing as his very own daughter or son. We don't merely take on a title of son or daughter when adopted but a relational function and responsibility.
From our previous discussion on freedom, enslavement and belonging in his family as his own child (Jn 8:31ff), a slave is not free to experience God as Father and participate in his family as his child. This same process also extends to all Christians functionally for experiential reality, not spiritual reality. That is, we need to be freed (redeemed) from controlling influences on our lives which effectively enslave us. Such freedom, however, is not for an individual end but a relational means. Redemption is always connected vitally to adoption. In other words, if we are living indeed free then our practice will function as his son or daughter (Jn 8:35,36). This is the only reason Jesus redeems us.
If we are truly following Jesus, then we must (dei) follow him to intimate relationship with the Father. If we are forming authentic discipleship, we must ongoingly engage our Father in this intimate relationship functioning as his adopted children. This is why Jesus came, this is where following him leads us, this is the relational progression of discipleship from disciple to friend to family member. If our practice does not relationally function distinctly as the Father's adopted son or daughter, then something is enslaving us.
Controlling influences on our lives effectively constrain our true identity in who, what and how we are in Christ as his followers, and/or essentially substitute an alternative righteousness for the relational righteousness of God. The relational consequence is distance from "your Father." If our righteousness will surpass the righteousness of reductionism (and that of the Pharisees and scribes), we will need to redirect our life pursuit, reprioritize, reorder our commitments and attachments by vulnerably practicing Jesus' ongoing relational imperative: "seek [Gk. zeteo, actively pursue to experience] first his Kingdom [rendered his family] and his righteousness" (6:33); actively pursue foremost the experience of your Father's family and the essence of who your Father is for deeper relationship together (cf., fourth beatitude, 5:6), and all else in your life will be satisfied--even in some of the quantitative areas.
This is the key verse for the section that combines with the key verse in the following section (7:12) and the key verse for the spirit of the law (5:48) to operationalize the fundamental practices of discipleship. These three key verses are all about the Father because Jesus came to reveal his Father and to take to the Father those who follow him in the relational progression. Authentic discipleship always leads to the Father and becomes a function of relationship with him. Thus, this is the righteousness we need to account for in our identity as his adopted children, and the authentic presentation of our self others need to be able to count on in our relationships, most notably with our Father.
Jesus revealed elsewhere (Lk 13:22-27, as noted earlier) that our most basic practice is relational work--reflected in the metaphor of the narrow door. This rigorous emphasis continues in the metaphor of the narrow gate as Jesus concludes his defining discourse by clearly stating the summary accountability for all Christians.
All of life (zoe) is predicated on relational work. Whatever life practice or process is exercised involves engagement in relational work. At the heart of Jesus' didache is the ultimate relational work which cannot be reduced in any way nor substituted for in any form.
The relational work Jesus has
set forth in this discourse is contrary to the prevailing practices
and norms (7:13-14) and in conflict with the outward-in
presentations of self from reductionism (7:15-20). Authentic
relational work is not about doing something (7:22), nor about
associations, beliefs or intentions about "Lord"
This is the righteous privilege, intimate experience and relational responsibility of having him as our Father, of representing our Father and extending his family. We are accountable to authentically engage in all the relational work set forth in his didache (7:24-27). These teachings are also the primer for the biblical culture of God's people and the heart of the uncommon. It outlines the fundamental beliefs, values and practices which are culturally specific to his family and, therefore, critical to the identity of those who follow Christ and to what distinguishes them from the common--even the religious common. This is the relational righteousness which surpasses the righteousness of reductionism.
In his total discourse is the process of discipleship formation for which we cannot make substitutes nor settle for less. Yet, the distinct process of discipleship formation is certainly not linear in its development, as the beatitudes involve. Despite its reflexive nature, there are no shortcuts we can take here or there. His closing metaphor about building a house warns us that on appearance variations of discipleship may look like valid discipleship. What is crucial is the foundation--the basis for the authenticity of our discipleship and what determines the qualitative substance and the relational order of our lives. Jesus unequivocally states that the certainty of the underpinning for his followers is grounded in practicing all his words contained in this discourse. They are not optional, negotiable, nor can we be selective about which of his words to practice.
The Sermon on the Mount makes discipleship either a burden or a blessing. It is a burden or threat to those who define themselves by what they do or have, and to any other reductionist mind-set. It is a blessing for "the meek" and for those who hunger and thirst for more--for their portion is God himself, whose presence and intimate involvement with them satisfies their heart.
As Jesus asked the Father for our transformation from inner-out (Jn 17:17), if there is tension, threat or burden in our discipleship, we need to thoroughly examine the contingency characteristic for our identity in the sixth beatitude. His Spirit is here to help us.
Our interests, no matter how strong, are not the main determinants for our priorities. Our attachments serve to establish what priorities function as primary in practice and what actually become secondary, even though listed as a higher priority in theory. Until we can truly distinguish where our attachments are, we will have difficulty responding to the Father's will as well as formulating theology of significance not only about him but more importantly to him, thus for him.
In the practice of maintaining doctrinal purity as the top priority, how does this in effect prevent fulfilling God's desires and purpose for our life?
How do the qualitative dimensions of truth constitute God's revelation of himself in the incarnation as well as the substance of the gospel?
The ambiguity or shallowness of Christian identity reflects a fundamental problem in identity formation. Along with identity formation, how do we need to define the process of spiritual formation and discipleship formation?
 Michael J. Wilkins, Discipleship in the Ancient World and Matthew's Gospel (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995), 126-172.
 For a more complete background on adoption, see David J. Williams, Paul's Metaphors: Their Context and Character (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), 64-66.
©2004 T. Dave Matsuo, Ph.D.
©2004 T. Dave Matsuo, Ph.D.