The Attitudes of a Disciple
By Brother Michel Lankford
If there is one passage of Scripture that encapsulates discipleship principles, it would have to be the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5 through 7). I consider this passage of Scripture to be so important that I generally study it every year. Here's why I think it's so critical:
We live in an age where political and social norms are influencing the church faster than the church is impacting the world. Why is this? I believe it is because for decades the church has worked harder to peacefully coexist with the world rather than to influence it. I believe that for decades the church in America has been more interested in survival than expansion. It is estimated that about 50 percent of church growth in America are believers moving from one congregation to another. We live in an era where about half of professing believers do not think that the Bible is relevant to their lives personally. I think the Sermon on the Mount is very critical for the following reasons.
1. It is the first public sermon Jesus preached after the Baptism, His anointing by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3: 13-17) and his temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11) the significance of this is that usually the first public works God accomplishes after he anoints someone are usually the most powerful and they set the tone for the rest of the ministry.
2. The second reason why the Sermon on the Mount is so critical is the sheer scope of its reach. Jesus manages to cover so much ground. In His first sermon, Jesus covers no less than 20 distinctive (and extremely relevant topics), from our inward heart attitude to how we manage our money in about 108 statements spanning 3 chapters.
3. The third reason that this Sermon on the Mount is so critical is that what religion and tradition take away, Jesus restores. Throughout this sermon you will see words like, "You have heard that it was said...But I say to you....” Jesus was re-raising the standard to where it should have been all along. This was necessary because the longer that a nation goes without a revival, the more scriptural standards get watered-down. It had been almost 400 years since there had been a genuine prophet of God in Israel by the time Jesus came on the scene. What happens between genuine revivals is that traditions and expedience begin to take a larger place in the lives of God's people. These two factors begin to work together to render the word of God almost impotent. (E.g. Matthew 15:4-8). It has been almost 100 years since our last great national revival. In that time, we certainly have seen our nation change for the worse.
4. The fourth reason that I consider this Sermon on the Mount so critical is because of the great promise that it contains. Look at the following verses
Matt 7:24-27 "Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. "And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. "Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. "The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell-and great was its fall." (NASB) The fact is, everyone of us will go through storms and difficult times in our lives, but we have a guarantee from the Son of God and creator of the universe Himself that if we hear His words and put them into practice, we will survive the storms of life and remain intact. For me, that is reason enough to study these words and seeks to diligently apply them to my life.
Our Attitudes as the Foundation for Discipleship
Christ begins His first public sermon with what has become known as the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12). These scriptures summarize the attitudes that one should "be" or have, as he or she seeks to successfully believe, follow, and spread the teachings of Jesus Christ as a disciple. As we begin to live life purposefully and intentionally for Jesus Christ, a frequent attitude check will invariably be required. Let's take a look at the Beatitudes together.
You'll notice that the word "blessed" repeats in every verse of this passage. The word blessed here (Strong's Greek #3107-makarios), quite literally means "maker happy." It further denotes one who is fortunate, prosperous, and happy or in an enviable position; one who obtains the highest good. I invite you to please pay special attention if you will, to the vast differences between what we in "Church world" call blessed and what God through His Son says will make us truly happy, fortunate, and prosperous.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." We spent a little time discussing this concept in chapter 1, but we'll review it anyway. The words "poor in spirit" (Strong’s Greek #'s 4434, 4151) quite literally means to be so helpless and powerless to help oneself, that one is reduced to begging for survival. It is only when one is aware of their spiritual neediness to that level, that we are ready to inherit the kingdom of heaven. Let's meditate on being so hungry, that one is reduced to begging. When you're that hungry, you have no room for arrogance because you can't afford the luxury of pride keeping you from what you need. When you're hungry enough to beg, there is no doubt in your mind how poor you are. You have no more delusions of self-sufficiency. The Bible says that when we reach the point of being that aware of our neediness, we are in a position for God to make us truly fortunate, prosperous, happy or in an enviable position because we are in a position to inherit the kingdom of heaven. I'd like to challenge you (and myself) for a moment. How does the attitude portrayed in Matthew 5:3 differ from some of the things we hear in common modern-day American Christendom? Do you see a difference between what "Church world" and Jesus call prosperous? If so, what are they?
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." The word "mourn" (Strong’s Greek # 3996-pentheō), denotes the idea of lamenting or being grieved and sorrowful, particularly over sin or having condoned sin or sinful systems. In a larger sense, it literally means to grieve over the things that are grievous to God. The reason that God says that if we mourn in this way, He will make us truly fortunate, prosperous, happy or in an enviable position, is because it's that kind of grieving and godly sorrow that produces genuine repentance, which means God can forgive us (2 Corinthians 7:10-11; Psalms 51:17).
Here is something else to ponder. One of the ways that we as human beings can often fall into sin is by looking for artificial means to comfort ourselves. We can fall into the trap of trying to meet legitimate needs in some very illegitimate ways. Think about it. We may overeat, waste too much time watching TV, play too many games, buy things we don't need, or commit any number of over-indulgences, all to compensate for something we lack emotionally. Or, we might gossip or criticize to make ourselves look better and others look worse in an effort to compensate for unhealthy self-esteem. We might do any number of things that we know to be unhealthy or inordinant, in order to compensate for some internal pain that we either cannot see or refuse to confront. I sincerely believe that the words “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" is also a call to the would-be disciple to start proactively confronting their pains, and not to use artificial means to comfort ourselves. Rather, we need to face our pain(s) and sorrows, allow ourselves to grieve, and gradually turn them over to the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3), instead of looking for artificial (and ultimately ineffective) means to comfort ourselves (Psalm 34:18; Psa 147:3).
“Blessed are the gentle, (or meek) for they shall inherit the earth. The word "meek" (Strong’s Greek #4239- praus; pronounced prah-ooce') Genuine meekness or humbleness is very misunderstood. When we think of meekness, we might picture the uncoordinated dorky looking kid who is an easy target of every bully in the school. He's always being picked on and can't really do anything about it. Biblically speaking, that isn't meek. True Biblical weakness is the idea of "controlled strength." It's more like the big brother who could be a bully to his younger siblings if he wanted to, but chooses not to use his strength in that manner. It denotes the idea of someone who could retaliate when they've been wronged, but instead they choose to overlook an offense done against them. It denotes the idea that I could promote myself and elevate myself at the expense of others if I wanted to, but instead I choose to promote someone else and take a lower position than what I might be entitled. In the end, Jesus says that it's those that are willing to take a back seat who will inherit the earth (See also Luke 14:7-14). I must be honest. As one who has been severely bullied in my life, getting to the point where I willingly take a back seat so others can be promoted is very difficult for me. When you've been made to feel like nothing most of your life the temptation to promote yourself is incredibly strong. This is one of those attributes that I encourage anyone who has been abused to really work on, because genuine meekness without becoming a doormat can be more difficult for us to master.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied." This phrase is self explanatory in that the Greek words and English words are virtually identical in meaning. Hunger in the Greek word means to desire food, thirsty means thirsty or to require drink. There's no difference here. The only word that is somewhat different depending on the translation you read, is the word "satisfied" (Strong’s Greek #5526"chortazō"). It can literally be translated fed, filled, fill or satisfied interchangeably, but I prefer the translation satisfied because I believe it to be a more precise translation for this particular passage of Scripture.
We live in a very strange world. In a free-market economy, business often requires that if there is no need for your product, you must create and need. As a result Americans are bombarded with messages approximately every 1.3 seconds telling us we need something; and if you don't have the something we're selling, then your life can't possibly be as fulfilled and complete without it. Whenever I find myself discontented or unhappy with my life, one of the first areas of my life I try to check is how hungry or thirsty I am for righteousness. Most of the time, if I'm hungry for the right things, God will see to it that the deepest longings of my heart will be satisfied. If I'm dissatisfied, perhaps it is my hunger that's in the wrong place.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Its quite simple. If I am to receive mercy from the living perfect and Almighty God, then I must show mercy to those who wound, and damage or offend me (Hebrews 2:17). Once again, the character of mercy is one of those things described as one of the very attributes of God's nature (Psalms 103:8, 111:4, 116:5; James 5:11). It's definitely a characteristic that developing disciples should seek to adopt into our character and emulate in our choices and actions.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. The word "pure" (Strong’s Greek #2513- katharos). The word is used some 26 times in the New Testament with variations in English translations such as to be clean, clear, pure and innocent. It is so precise as to describe one who is spiritually, ceremonially and ethically clean or free from every blemish, corruption or defilement. The word "heart" Strong’s Greek #2588- Kardia). You'll notice that it's very close to the word cardiac. Biblically speaking, if you want a good understanding of the heart of a person, you might look at it as the communication pathway between the spirit and the soul of a human being. (See figure 2). If your heart (the lines of communication between your spirit and your soul) are healthy, than the process of bringing your soul and body into agreement with what God's already done in your spirit becomes that much easier. Dealing with our heart is one of the first and most important areas where we work in partnership with God. When we are born again, God gives us a new spirit and He renews our heart (Ezekiel 36:25-27; Deuteronomy 30:6). Our partnering with God happens as we work with Him to maintain and strengthen the work of renewal that He began in our heart (Proverbs 4:23).
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. The word "peacemaker" (Strong’s Greek #1518 -eirēnopoios) is a very interesting word, in that this is the only instance in which it is ever used in Scripture. According to the Vine's Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament and New Testament, the word comes from two Greek words Eirēnē, and poieō, "to make." The word is very interesting in another sense. Notice it does not say blessed are the peacekeepers, but blessed are the peacemakers. Peacekeeping involves maintaining a particular status quo, while peacemaking involves transforming a situation from chaos to tranquility, in this case by virtue of properly applying God's word and character into a situation. The Savior promises that if we can master this role, God will call us His sons.
Two Different Mindsets... Understanding Why Persecution Happens
“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
I kept these verses together in one paragraph for our discussion because they are an extension of each other. In these three verses, Christ brings together the past with the present. In Matthew 5:10, Christ was no doubt remembering all of those who have been persecuted for sincere faith and obedience to God since the time of Able to the present day. (see also Hebrews 11:1-12:2). It's an unfortunate consequence of our sinfully fallen world, but the fact is that those who desire to live godly lives will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12). Facing persecution is part of the cost of discipleship. Here are some useful realities to remember.
1. There is an enormous ideological divide between God and “the world.” While we cannot possibly list all the differences, the chart and list below identify the key ones.
|The World’s Ideologies||Godly Ideologies|
|We are our own god. (Self Worship/Idolatry)||There is only One True God. Man’s purpose is to discover and faithfully serve Him (Worship)|
|Humanity is basically good, and all we need to do is discover and tap into our innate goodness and all will be well. (Pride)||Humanity is fallen, wicked and sinful at its Core. We need God to save us and transform us by His Love. (Humble)|
|There is no absolute right or wrong, it’s all a matter of opinion or personal interpretation. Therefore what I do doesn’t really matter||God has absolute standards of Truth, Love, Faith, and Obedience. God will judge world. Falling short of His standards brings serious consequences. Doing His will bring blessings|
|It’s all about me. Whatever to get ahead is OK. (Ambition)||I need to Love God with all my heart soul mind and strength. I must seek to treat others as I would like to be treated. Selfish ambition is sin.|
|We Live to consume: Grab all you can get. Spend and use all you can before you die (greed)||Giving and contributing is the pathway to true and eternal riches. (Generosity)|
2. God seeks to reveal Himself through His creation, through His word, and through His people, but the world, the world's systems, and worldly ideologies are diametrically opposed to God and His ideals. Therefore, the world system seeks to suppress the truth with their wickedness (See Romans 1:18-32).
3. The world and its systems love darkness and hate those who seek to live Godly lives (John 3:19-21, 7:7, 15:18-21; 2 Timothy 3:12; 1 John 3:13-14).
4. As we grow to become better disciples who believe, follow and spread the teachings of Jesus Christ, we will often find that not only does the soul part of our being fight against what we're trying to do, but the world and the environment that we live in fights against us as well. This is why would be disciples must be well trained because the contest is not only an internal one but also an external one. We must at all costs avoid falling in love with this world, its systems and ideologies (1 John 2:15-17).
5. As disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ, part of our responsibility is to guard our heart with all diligence (Proverbs 4:23). That means that we have to be extremely selective about the way we think, the attitudes we choose to maintain, the emotions we choose to retain, the way we talk and the way we behave.
Key Steps to Guarding Your Heart
1. Commit your heart to Almighty God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Ask him for a clean heart, and ask Him for His help to keep your hearts clean (Psalm 51:10-13, Psalm 86:10-12; Proverbs 4:23)
2. Make a personal determination to keep a clean heart as God will help you (Daniel 1:8)
3. Stay in God’s word (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Psalm 1:1-3, Psalm 119:11, Joshua 1:7-8
4. Guard your thinking and keep an attitude of confession and repentance. Keep short accounts of confession and repentance. Make sure that you are honest and you come to God with confession when you experience any evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications , thefts, false witness, slanders. Please don't try to confess every nuance and "inward dialogue" in detail because that gives them too much credence. However, you should for example confess, "Lord Jesus, I had a thought of greed or coveting. Please forgive me and cleanse me from all unrighteousness." (See 1 John 1:8-9). You can't allow those types of thoughts to remain unchallenged because they will defile your heart if you do (Matthew 15:15-20; Mark 7:17-23). Warning: When trying to renew your mind, do not, repeat do not try to forcibly avoid wrong thinking. For example, if I try to forcibly avoid thinking about a white polar bear, I'll be very frustrated. The harder I try to force myself to avoid thinking about a white polar bear, the more I will think about a white polar bear. It's ultimately self-defeating. If I want to stop thinking about a white polar bear, I have to actively replace one thought with another. I have to start actively thinking about teddy bears, Kuala bears, or panda bears. In other words I have to proactively redirect my thinking in some other direction. I'm not just trying to avoid thinking about white polar bears, I'm actively thinking about something else. Taking this example into the spiritual realm, let's say that I'm bombarded with thoughts of selfishness and greed for example. Here is what I would do.
a. First I have to admit it. "Lord Jesus, I confess to you that right now I'm bothered with thoughts of selfishness and greed. Please save me from them and cleanse me from all unrighteousness."
b. Second, I asked the Lord to help me redirect my mind into a more productive direction. "Lord Jesus, please help me to redirect my mind according to your grace."
c. Third, begin pointing your mind in a healthier direction. When dealing with selfishness and greed or coveting for example, you might start making a list of all the things that you are grateful to God for, and all the blessings that He's provided.
d. Fourth, put some action behind the new direction that you want your mind to go. For example, start reading down your list and praying as you go. Ask God to show you if there is any area in your life where you have a surplus and make an action plan to share that surplus with others
5. Begin guarding your five senses. There is an old saying, “garbage in, garbage out.” Pay attention to what you are reading or watching. Be careful what you listen to, or what to spend your time doing. Are these things confirming or reaffirming the truth is that you already know and a character that you are trying to reach? Wherever you find that these habits are not beneficial to you are reaching your goal of discipleship, beginning actively eliminating them as God gives you the strength to do so.
V Daily review Matthew 5:3-12 prayerfully.
V Pray about each of these Beatitudes. Ask God to give you the willingness to more readily submit your heart to Him so that he can transform your heart to possess and show forth these characteristics
V At least three times this week, review the steps to guarding your heart
V In your journal: begin logging some of the progress and challenges that you had as you are trying to complete this assignment.