Christ’s Teaching on Positive Human Interaction
We begin our study of Christ’s direct teaching with a two-part discussion of the Sermon on the Mount: Christ’s elaborate sermon recorded in Matthew 5–7. The sermon was a teaching on living in the image of God, which we have also described as “positive human interaction:” i.e., living and interacting with people for the purpose of representing God in everything we do and accomplishing the objectives for which he created us. The sermon consists of two parts. In the first part, he provides the principles of living in the image of God. In this study, we identify the principles as eight steps, which are described in the bible as the Beatitudes. In the second part, he describes specific examples of application of the principles.
THE BEATITUDES Part 1 of our two-part discussion focuses on the Beatitudes: the first part of the Sermon on the Mount. The Beatitudes describe eight steps (or principles) for living in the image of God. The first three Beatitudes describe human relationship with God, the third through eighth describe human interactions, with an overlap in the third Beatitude because it applies to both human relationship with God and human interactions.
The Setting for Christ’s Ministry
When Christ started his ministry, he lived in Capernaum by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali [Matthew 4:12–17]. There, he began to preach a message of repentance: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
FORERUNNER FOR CHRIST’S MINISTRY We recall that John the Baptist preached the same message earlier (see previous bible study at This_Link), when he decried the state of human interactions dominated by predator-versus-prey type relationships. He admonished people to repent from this type of living and turn to God’s ways of living, which are characterized by positive human interaction, whereby every person is a conveyor of the image of God and channel for God’s compassion. Being a conveyor of the image of God means providing a reasonable opportunity for other people to feel God through your actions. Being a channel for God’s compassion implies being his provider assistant, so that when a need exists he positions somebody to provide for it. In this scenario, every person is potentially a provider for other people and receiver of things and services provided by others. Christ preached the same message more elaborately. Therefore, we see that the essence of John the Baptist’s role as the Forerunner for Christ’s ministry was introducing the message of repentance from a state of human living dominated by predator-versus-prey type relationships to human living characterized by positive human interaction. Christ elaborated on the message through the Sermon on the Mount.
START OF CHRIST’S MINISTRY Among the things Jesus did to start his ministry was he selected the first four disciples: Peter, his brother Andrew, and James and John, the sons of Zebedee. The circumstances of their selection provide a deep lesson that we cannot peek at now but must reserve for a future bible study session. He taught in synagogues, proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God, and healed every disease and sickness among the people. Large crowds followed him from every direction. On one occasion, he took the crowds to a mountainside and delivered an elaborate message, described today as the Sermon on the Mount. We discuss the message based on the account in Matthew 5–7.
The Sermon on the Mount consists of two parts. In this session, we focus on the first part, in which Christ describes eight principles for living in the image of God: i.e., living a life characterized by positive human interaction, whereby every person is a conveyor of the image of God and a channel for his compassion. We now discuss the eight principles.
POOR IN SPIRIT “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” [Matthew 5:3]. Poor in spirit is a recognition that human effort alone is inadequate to accomplish the purpose for which God created us. We can only accomplish his purpose if we accept him to direct our life. Being poor in spirit means accepting that we need God in our life in order to do the things that he created us to do. The acceptance prepares one for the other steps that are needed to live in the image of God. Christ promises blessing for the poor in spirit.
SPIRITUAL MOURNING “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” [Matthew 5:4]. Spiritual mourning is acknowledging with heart-felt regret that we live a life that separates us from God. We live the type of life that John the Baptist decried as “brood of vipers,” dominated by predator-versus-prey type relationships in which every person desires to cheat or exploit others. This type of living differs from the life of positive human interaction that God intended. To mourn spiritually means to acknowledge with heart-felt regret that we have departed from God’s intentions and are prepared to turn to the type of life he created us to live. Spiritual mourning prepares one for the other steps needed to live in the image of God. Christ promises blessing and comfort to those that mourn spiritually.
HUMILITY “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” [Matthew 5:5]. This describes the value of humility toward God and toward other people. Humility toward God is similar to the first Beatitude, being a recognition that human effort alone is inadequate to serve God’s purpose. To live in the way he created us, we have to submit to him while doing what we can so that we are better prepared to accept his guidance. Humility toward another person is the recognition that every person could hold the key to a service that you need but will not have unless he/she provides it. This relationship arises out of the fact that God creates every person as a potential provider to others. To motivate another person’s goodness, you present yourself with a promise of appreciation: i.e., an attitude that conveys to the other person your recognition that you may have a need that can best be satisfied by him/her, you deeply appreciate the person’s role in your life and are prepared to play a similar role when given the opportunity. Christ promises blessing for people that approach others with this sense of humility and are humble toward God. Being meek prepares one for the other steps needed to live in the image of God.
DESIRE FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” [Matthew 5:6]. God creates every person to represent him in interactions with other people and with other inhabitants of the earth. If it is your heart’s desire to represent God (be his ambassador) in every interaction, while providing others reasonable opportunity to feel God through your actions, Christ promises through this Beatitude that your desire will be satisfied and you will be blessed. Being hungry and thirsty for righteousness prepares one for the other steps needed to live in the image of God.
MERCY “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” [Matthew 5:7]. God creates every person to be his provider assistant (channel for his compassion), such that when a need exists he positions someone to provide for the need. Being merciful means being prepared in your heart to recognize needs placed in your path and do what you can to provide for the needs. Christ promises through this Beatitude that a person that submits himself/herself to being a channel for God’s compassion is blessed and will receive compassion channeled through others. Being merciful prepares one for the other steps needed to live in the image of God.
PURE IN HEART “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” [Matthew 5:8]. Purity of heart refers to your motivation for doing things. You have purity of heart if your only motivation is to provide for needs that God has placed in your path. This applies equally to providing free or for-fee service to address a need. Purity of heart in providing free service implies your only motivation is to provide for the need. If you are providing for-fee service, having determined that you need to charge a fee in order to provide the service effectively, then purity of heart means you charge a fair (non-exploitative) fee necessary to provide the service effectively. Christ promises through this Beatitude that the pure in heart is blessed and will see God. Being pure in heart prepares one for the other steps needed to live in the image of God.
PEACEMAKER “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” [Matthew 5:9]. Being a peacemaker means having a peaceful heart and a desire to instill peace in every situation. As we discussed in a previous bible study at This_Link, the desire to make peace motivates a person to understand the facts of a situation and how to steer the situation toward peace. Christ promises through this Beatitude that peacemakers are blessed and will be called children of God. Being a peacemaker prepares one for the other steps needed to live in the image of God.
BE NOT AFRAID OF PERSECUTION “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” [Matthew 5:10]. Don’t be afraid that others may reject what you do, laugh at you, call you a bad name, or persecute you in anyway because they misunderstand your living in the image of God. If you live in the image of God, then God will reward you because you are doing what he created you to do. Therefore, don’t be afraid of any kind of persecution or ridicule for seeking righteousness as defined through the Beatitude.