Christ’s Teaching on Positive Human Interaction Part 2
In the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5–7], Christ delivered an elaborate teaching on living in the image of God: i.e., living and interacting with people for the purpose of representing God in everything we do and accomplishing the objectives that he places on our paths. The teaching consists of two parts. First, he provided a set of eight principles for living in the image of God, which are known today in Christianity as The Beatitudes. Second, he described the essence of living in the image of God using examples from everyday life. We discussed the Beatitudes (first part of the Sermon on the Mount) in Part 1 of this study at This_Link. This week, our discussion focuses on the second part of the Sermon on the Mount.
Find and Perform for Your Purpose
The second part of the Sermon on the Mount begins with the teaching in Matthew 5:13–16, in which Christ reminds us that God created human beings for a purpose and endowed each of us with an intrinsic capability to perform the purpose. He expects us to actively deploy our capabilities in every situation. He used an analogy of the saltiness of salt to describe God’s expectations regarding interactions among people and between people and other earth inhabitants.
SALTINESS AND GODLINESS God created each person to be a conveyor of his image and a channel for his compassion in every situation. Therefore, the image and compassion of God that a person conveys and radiates to his/her environment define the person’s Godliness. Just as salt is known by and valued because of its saltiness, a human being should be known by and valued because of his/her Godliness. Also, just as the saltiness of salt is felt through what it does, the Godliness of a person should be felt through the person’s actions. Godliness is expressed through human interactions, when a person’s actions radiate an impact of God to his/her environment. Also, just as the saltiness of salt is an intrinsic quality, Godliness is intrinsic to a person: not something a person makes up to show, but something that shows up as the person lives. As salt enhances and preserves the goodness of food because of its saltiness, a person should motivate and preserve the goodness of people because of his/her Godliness.
POSITIVE IMPACT AND LIGHT Just as people light a lamp and place it on its stand so “it gives light to everyone in the house,” let your Godliness radiate impact to others that “they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” [Matthew 5:15–16]. Light radiates from a source as positive impact radiates from a person’s Godliness. Through this teaching, Christ calls on you to participate in every situation you find yourself, so your Godliness will be felt by others. How you participate depends on your assessment of what is needed from you in a given situation. God assigns every person a role in every situation, such that performing the role is the very reason that God places the person in the situation. Finding your purpose and working to fulfill it is how you contribute value to a situation. Therefore, every person should find what God has placed in his/her path for a given situation and do what he/she can to accomplish it. Perform your role so that others may be impacted by your Godliness, similar to the lighthouse lamp throwing its light for everyone.
LOSS OF SALTINESS It is unthinkable that salt may lose its saltiness. But if it does, then the salt no longer has any value. Similarly, a person that has lost his/her Godliness no longer has any value. Godliness is effectively lost from any that fails to interact in ways that radiate it to the person’s environment. Therefore, in every situation, find and serve the purpose for which God placed you there. Make a positive impact to motivate and preserve human goodness, so that people will glorify God because of your Godliness.
Focus Not on Commandments
In this segment of the teaching [Matthew 5:17–20], Christ emphasized that we should set standards for our life based on living in the image of God. We should not focus on the commandments because one can satisfy the commandments while failing to fulfill the expectations of living in the image of God. In contrast, the standard we set for ourselves for living in the image of God will ensure fulfillment of the commandments. He gave examples with murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, vengeance, and love [Matthew 5: 21–48].
GODLY STATE OF MIND For the example on murder, he drew a contrast between the state of mind in living in the image of God and the state of mind in following the commandment. Living in the image of God implies a state of mind characterized by peace, love, respect, and care; which is well far from the state of mind that could lead someone to commit murder. In contrast, one may satisfy the commandment against murder while still relating to others in an ungodly state of mind, characterized by anger, disrespect, and lack of care. Living in the image of God, you will hold yourself to a standard that includes satisfying the commandments. In contrast, if you focus on the commandments, you would hold yourself to a lower standard that does not include several things needed to live in the image of God.
Focus Not on Impressing People
Next in the teaching, Christ discussed motivations for our actions. He drew contrast between seeking to impress people and seeking to please God. We please God by recognizing and addressing needs that he places in our path [Matthew 6:1–18]. If your actions are motivated by seeking to impress people, then impressing them would be your reward. However, if you are motivated by “hunger and thirst” to fulfill God’s purpose, then your desire will be satisfied and God will reward you as Christ promised in the 4th Beatitude [Matthew 5:6]. He illustrated this teaching with examples on giving, prayer, and fasting.
MOTIVATION FOR GIVING The motivation for giving should be to provide for a need that you have recognized [Matthew 6:1–4]. If your giving is motivated differently, e.g., to win admiration or recognition from people, then your reward would be whatever people offer you in return. In contrast, if you are motivated by a “hunger and thirst” to provide for a need that God placed in your path, then God will reward you according to his promise in Matthew 5:6–8.
MOTIVATION FOR PRAYER AND WORSHIP Your prayer should be motivated by seeking to communicate with God [Matthew 6:5–15]. If you have other motivation like showing off your eloquence or knowledge, then you may be better off taking an examination on praying and getting a perfect score so people will reward you for your effort. If you are motivated by seeking to communicate with God, then pray from your heart and let your heart control your mouth and the rest of your body. This principle applies to prayer as well as other forms of worship, such as singing, dancing, and others. When you worship God, are your worship style and intensity dictated by your heart or are you putting on a performance to impress or satisfy people? Christ tells us in this teaching that our worship should be motivated by a desire to communicate with God.
PURITY OF HEART The teaching also means that we should worship with purity of heart. You have purity of heart in worship if your only motivation is to communicate with God. Similarly, you have purity of heart in giving if your only motivation is to provide for a need that God placed in your path. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” [6th Beatitude, Matthew 5:8].
Focus Not on Accumulation of Wealth
GOD PROTECTS EARNED BLESSING In this segment of the teaching [Matthew 6:19–24], Christ reminds us that we earn blessings (treasures in heaven) by interacting with people in a way that fulfills God’s purpose, i.e., living in the image of God. He emphasized that God protects blessings we earn until the blessing is fulfilled at its time. Unlike earthly treasures, earned blessing cannot be taken away nor does it deteriorate. As we discussed in previous bible studies at This_Link and at This_Link, any blessing you earn remains in effect until fulfilled at its own time. You may incur punishment if you commit sin, but the earned blessing and incurred punishment are parallel promises from God and do not affect each other. Therefore, focus on living in the image of God and God will reward you in a way that fulfills his purpose for you.
Focus Not on Your Welfare
In this segment [Matthew 6:25–34], Christ admonished against worrying about our welfare because such worrying will reduce our focus on the things that God created us to do. God will take care of our needs if we live in his image. Also, there is not much that a person can accomplish by worrying. If we focus on doing the things that he created us to do, then he will provide for us according to his purpose.
WORRY VERSUS CONSTRUCTIVE CONCERN Worrying means being disturbed, maybe panicky and often non-constructive, about a need. It is not the same as thinking constructively and planning about how to accomplish objectives in order to provide for a need. Christ admonishes against worrying because it reduces our focus on doing the things that we need to do. God takes care of our needs through our hard work and his input, often channeled through other people (see previous bible study at This_Link), but does not want us to worry because we accomplish nothing by worrying.