The Gospel And The Culture Of The Church – Matthew 5:2-16

 

The Gospel & The Culture Of The Church

Nick Esch, 10/15/2017 Cornerstone Baptist Church Terrell, TX

Introduction

When I say the word culture what comes to your mind? Some of us might think of the world around us, or each of our cultural backgrounds; but that’s not what I’m getting at. One writer has said that, “culture is the strongest force in any organization…” He goes on to say that, “The best way to understand culture is the statement: ‘This is how we do things’” (Samuel Chand). And you see, this is closer to what I mean. Every organization has a culture, and that culture is essentially how they live and function; it’s how they believe and act without giving it much thought. And this idea of culture exists within the church as well. Every church has a culture; the culture of a church is made up of particular practices and qualities—what we celebrate and treasure, how we function and live, what we expect and encourage…

Every church has a culture; the question is what kind of culture does it have? What kind of culture do we have? You see churches can do many good things through programs, initiatives, and the like, but what really matters, where the rubber meets the road, is what the church is and does in its everyday life… What are its instincts and habits? What are its disciplines and practices? What does it love and treasure? You see if a church just does good things when there is an event, a program, or an initiative, that’s not really all that remarkable… I mean that’s not gospel-transformation, it’s just typical behavior-modification… And if there’s one thing you’ve picked up from me over the last few years, I hope it’s that we are after gospel-transformation, not behavior-modification. And I would argue that it is the gospel itself that should shape our culture; the church should have a gospel-culture… So with that in mind, before I go any further, let’s look at Matthew 5:2-16; but again, keep this idea of church culture in mind…

Matthew 5:2-16

Now before I tie this into church culture, let’s unpack what Jesus is saying in our passage. Jesus starts off saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Now if we keep the whole context of the Sermon on the Mount in view, this makes more sense. Later Jesus is going to say, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). And what He’s communicating there, is that we are all in need of a righteousness that exceeds are own. The scribes and the Pharisees were the hyper religious of the day; they were those who seemed holier than thou… But here Jesus is saying, that even their—so-called—righteousness isn’t enough. And just to make sure there’s no confusion, He stresses this even more by saying, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

But who measures up to this? No one, right!? And you see, that’s the point… We see what God demands of us—perfection—and we know that we fall utterly short. In fact, we really bring nothing to the table when it comes to righteousness. We are all sinners before a holy God. We were created in the image of God to image Him, to display His character to the world through our lives, but we all sin and fall short of this. And now we all are inherently unrighteous. We, by our very human nature, are not perfect. I mean, everyone knows that; that’s why when we mess up we say, “Well, I’m only human…” To be human in this fallen broken world is likewise to be fallen and broken, to be imperfect. But even though we all recognize that, we don’t all recognize the implications of that. We don’t all recognize that we are utterly unrighteous and have no hope of seeing the kingdom of heaven on our own. But for those who do, for those who recognize that they are a broken sinner in desperate need of God’s grace, Jesus says, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

To be poor in something is to be lacking. And when Jesus says spirit here he’s not referring to the Holy Spirit. To be poor in spirit means to be poor or lacking in arrogance, pride, self-dependency, and the like; to not be full of one’s self. In other words, to be poor in spirit is to recognize you are a sinner in desperate need of God and His mercy and grace—to understand that you need a righteousness that is not your own. To be poor in spirit is to be spiritually bankrupt—to be a broken sinner at the foot of the cross; for it is at the cross that God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God. Jesus lived the perfect life, died a sacrificial death, and rose again in power to save a people for Himself, to save the poor in spirit. Is that where you are? Is that what you are? Are you poor in spirit?… How do we know if we’re poor in spirit? Well, just follow what Jesus says here.

Next He says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” What would a person who is poor in spirit be mourning over? Their sin… The person who is truly poor in spirit believes just as Paul did, who said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15). The poor in spirit see themselves as the foremost of sinners, and they mourn over their sin. But Jesus says they are comforted… By what? They’re comforted by the good news that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners… It’s the person and work of Jesus, the gospel that comforts the poor in spirit.

And if this is the posture of the poor in spirit then it makes sense that Jesus would say next, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” To be meek by definition is to be humble; and the poor in spirit know that they are a sinner in desperate need of God’s grace—indeed, they know that without God’s grace they are nothing. Even the most mature Christian lives in this reality. As John Newton once wrote, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.” As Paul said, “What do we have that we did not receive?” What do we have to be proud about?… The poor in spirit are meek because they are amazed by grace, because whatever good they do or have… is all of grace… And notice here, that this is the first beatitude that not only speaks of our posture before God, but also before man. Our humility before God makes us humble before men… I wonder if that’s how you are? Are you meek and trusting in God, or are you proud and trusting in yourself? Now, I understand that we all struggle with pride, but what’s your pattern of life look like? Friend, if all of this sounds foreign to you, I would ask you to just humble yourself, turn from your sin, trust in, and follow Jesus. If you have any questions about that come see me after the service…

From here Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” And this too makes sense, because as we realize that everything we have is all of grace, as we realize the words of James 1:17 are true: that, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change…” then we’ll realize that all good things derive their goodness from God. I mean think about the things and the people you love and enjoy most… Think about everything good about them that brings you joy… Now realize, God created everything. And everything good in this world is only good because an infinitely good God made it. Think about the joy we get from family or friends… Now multiply that times infinity and you’re getting close to the joy that comes from fellowship with God. Everything good we do or have is all of grace, and God is an infinite fountain of grace. He’s a well of joy without bottom. As we begin to understand this, alongside seeing that we are truly poor in spirit, we will be all the more hungry and thirsty for God, for righteousness, for Christ who is our righteousness. And every time we go to Him we will be satisfied—for He is infinitely satisfying. We are indeed spiritually bankrupt; our need is far greater than we could ever realize, but our Savior is likewise far greater than we could ever realize…

This is what makes Christians so different from the rest of the world. If I could quote John Newton once again, he once wrote, “Our pleasures and our duty, though opposite before; since we have seen His beauty are joined to part no more.” In other words, once we begin to grasp who Jesus truly is, sin begins to taste bitter and Christ begins to taste sweet. We want more of Him above all else. We long for Jesus and Christlikeness above the pleasures of sin and the things of this world. Jesus becomes what we are supremely satisfied in, and that drastically changes our lives—it changes everything about us.

For starters, we become merciful because of the mercy that we have received in Christ. And this is where Jesus takes us next. He says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Jesus isn’t saying that we have to be merciful to earn mercy… No. Mercy by definition is something that isn’t earned… It’s unmerited, gracious compassion. In fact, it’s not just unmerited, but typically it’s the very opposite of what is deserved. We deserve wrath and fury, but in Christ we receive love and grace… Why? Because of God’s great mercy… Is this not exactly what we read in Ephesians 2:4-5? “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…” Love and grace all because God is rich in mercy. And when God showers His mercy on His people they become merciful… So what Jesus is saying here is that the evidence of us being recipients of mercy is our being merciful. As John says, “We love because He first loved us…” Well, so too, we are merciful because He first has mercy on us…

The mercy we receive makes us merciful. So truly receiving mercy makes us a conduit for mercy; and that means that we show love and grace, we show unmerited compassion to the unworthy, even to those who despise us. For that is exactly how we were with God in our sin. We were rebels against Him; Romans 8:7 says in our flesh we were hostile to God. We were His enemies. We were at enmity with God. “But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He had mercy on His enemies… Do we? Are we merciful? Do we sacrificially love others? Do we love others at great cost to ourselves—loving those who can give us nothing in return, or perhaps will only give us hostility in return? Jesus says that’s how Christians love… Is that how we love? Have we indeed received mercy?…

You see, Jesus is showing us that the gospel changes us. If we have truly embraced the gospel and surrendered to Christ the gospel will change us, it will transform us in every way—outside and inside. He says next, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Through the gospel the Christian has been made pure; in Christ we have pure hearts, but now we seek holiness, we seek to keep our hearts pure because we long to see God, who is completely pure. This verse goes right along with verse six: we hunger and thirst for righteousness, for holiness, for purity of heart; but at the heart of that hungering and thirsting is a hunger and thirst for God—for it is in Him and Him alone that we are satisfied. So we fight sin and pursue holiness because our hearts long to see God, because we know down in the core of our being—our heart—that we can only be satisfied in Him. We want to see Him, we want to know Him, we want to love Him, we want fellowship with Him all the more. And we shall have it; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied, the pure in heart will see God…

Jesus follows this with, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” First understand, Christians are sons of God because the perfect Son of God—who died, is risen, has ascended, is reigning, and soon returning—reconciled us to God, He made peace between us and God. And much like mercy, because we are now at peace with God we are peacemakers. Jesus made peace and has made us peacemakers. And notice, Christians are peacemakers, not peacekeepers. This is proactive. We certainly shun divisiveness and strive for peace; but we actively make peace also. But how do we do that? Well, again, it’s through the gospel that we have received peace, so it’s through the gospel that we make peace. Jesus made peace through the gospel and so do we. We advance the gospel deep into hearts and wide out into the world. And as we share the gospel with unbelievers and minister the gospel to believers, peace will be made between man and God and man and his fellowman. What I take Jesus to mean by peacemaking here is evangelism and discipling: the two main responsibilities of all Christians. Sharing the gospel with the lost and helping other Christians grow in the gospel, grow in their relationship with Jesus—this is how we make peace.

Do you understand that evangelism and discipling are two of your main responsibilities as a Christian? Are you actively involved in evangelism and discipling? Are we a people who are about this work? Are we peacemakers? Now, even as I ask that, I can’t help but notice Jesus doesn’t say that Christians are just to be about the work of peacemaking, He says they are, in fact, peacemakers. You see, when the gospel so takes root in our lives, and so transforms our lives, it simply flows from us, as if it were a part of us. And the same could be said about all of the beatitudes. These aren’t merely things we are to do, they are a part of who we are. Christians are those who are so impacted by the gospel that they live a gospel-centered life; and if we are living a gospel-centered life, evangelism should be a natural overflow of it. Sure, evangelism is a discipline—meaning it’s something we are called by God to do—but the gospel should always be on the tip of our tongue, because in Christ it is now a part of who we are. The gospel transforms our whole identity. Peacemaking is not just something we choose to do or not to do; if we are Christians we are peacemakers; our life, our words, our actions are so gospel-saturated that peace is made, the gospel is shared and ministered. Our nature in Christ makes us evangelizers and disciplers.

But a life lived loud and proud for the gospel is never easy. As Paul told Timothy, “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). And this is exactly where Jesus goes. In verse 10 He says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Then He doubles up, and emphasizes this point in verses 11 and 12, saying, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Reading these together we can see that righteousness’ sake in verse 10 is Jesus’ sake in verse 11—it’s the gospel’s sake, it’s all one in the same… So Jesus is saying that Christians will be reviled, as in slandered, falsely accused and torn down, or abused, be it in writing, in text, verbally, or whatever. Christians will be persecuted; which could mean being marginalized and abused physically, financially, emotionally, or a number of other different ways… And why is all of this happening? For His sake… Because Christians have been so transformed by the gospel that they are now poor in spirit, sin mourning, meek, merciful, pure, peacemakers who are only satisfied in Christ, their lives are now so counter the world and so Christ-centered, that the hostility that the world by nature has with God is now pointed at the children of God as well.

But notice what is truly astounding here… Jesus says, “Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven…” So Christians are reviled, persecuted, and slandered by the world… The world that they are showing mercy and seeking to help; the world that they are sacrificially loving by doing whatever God calls them to do for their good and God’s glory. Remember back to what we said it means to be merciful: to show love and grace, to show unmerited compassion to the unworthy, even to those who despise us. And Jesus here is bringing this idea of being merciful to fruition, and saying that when those who despise us hurt us, don’t despair, but rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven… And it’s that reward that we are doing all that we do for…

Jesus here ties verse 12 back to verses 6 and 8. You see, our reward in heaven is the great reward of infinite satisfaction in Christ, the reward of seeing God and enjoying Him forever. He is the righteousness we hunger and thirst for, He is what makes us pure, and He is what keeps us pure as our hearts long for Him and desire Him above any and all things this world could give us or take away from us. Sure we desire comfort and safety; sure we want to be liked… But above all of that we want God… We desire Jesus above all things… We are satisfied in Christ above all; He is our supreme treasure… At least, He should be… And when He is, that’s why you can rejoice and be glad even in the midst of great persecution… When Jesus is your supreme treasure then you can truly love God with all of your heart, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself, because you can love others with true sacrificial love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself for us, because your loving them for Jesus’ sake, not because of how they will respond. We love because He first loved us!!!

And all Jesus has laid out here by all of this is what it means to be a Christian; the beatitudes are the basic marks of a true Christian. But they aren’t just the marks of a true Christian, but true Christians. Notice with each beatitude He says things like the poor in spirit, or those who mourn, not the one who is poor in spirit, or the one who mourns. Jesus is laying out the basic marks of, not just the Christian, but the Christian community. We might say that He’s showing us what the culture of the Christian community, of the church is like. This becomes all the more evident when we look at what He says next.

Starting in verse 13 He says, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” If we have all of these basic Christian marks, Jesus then says we are the salt of the earth, we are the light of the world. Though it’s hard to see in the English, each you in these verses are plural. So what He’s saying here is that a church like this—which is what every church should be—is the light of the world, is the salt of the earth… Now, there’s a lot I could say about what it means to be salt and light, but at the most basic level, it seems that Jesus is saying that the church will be set apart and stand out from the world in extraordinary ways.

The other day my family and I went to the store, and my children saw some new kind of potato chips that they wanted to try. So we bought them, and brought them home, and we tried them. And, it wasn’t that they tasted bad, but that they were just so plain that they were boring. There was no salt on them at all. They were boring; they needed some salt… That’s kind of what Jesus is communicating here. The church that exemplifies the beatitudes—as all churches should—so shines out and so stands out that they cannot be ignored, they influence and impact all they come into contact with, and when people truly encounter the love of this church—the culture of this church, when they see their good works they give glory to God.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I have done many good works in the name of Christ that have been seen and experienced by unbelievers, and yet, I can only think of a couple of times, maybe even just one time where someone was so impacted by what I was doing that they surrendered their life to Jesus, giving glory to our Father who is in heaven. I mean, we would go under bridges and feed the homeless, pray with people, serve people, share the gospel with people, and more often than not, they did not surrender to Christ and give glory to God. Thanksgiving is coming up, and we’ll feed the community, but the community never really seems to be all that impressed… Why? Well, even the world does good works like that. Even unbelievers will serve in soup kitchens on Thanksgiving, even unbelievers care about the welfare of the homeless. You see the good works that Jesus is speaking of here are much more radical.

When Jesus says they will “see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven…” remember that this is in the context of being truly merciful, of being truly satisfied in Christ, of longing to see God above all else, and being willing and able to joyfully embrace suffering, reviling, and persecution for Jesus’ sake. And you see, those things are at the heart of what Jesus means by good works. Good works here are the things that true Christians do to sacrificially love others as Christ loved them and gave Himself up for them. Christians show love and grace, show unmerited compassion to the unworthy, even to those who despise us… And even when they persecute us after we have given them love, we don’t despair, but we rejoice and be glad because our reward is great in heaven. So we love others at great cost to ourselves, we inconvenience ourselves, we give sacrificially of our finances, of our time, of our efforts, of our possessions, for the good of others, regardless of how we are treated in return. We love because He first loved us; and the world doesn’t have a category for that… That’s what makes us stand out, that’s what makes us shine out… We love each other this way, and we reach out to the world in love this way… We love others well by being merciful peacemakers…

The love that we are called to is to be a merciful, peacemaking, sacrificial love; a cross-shaped love. Think about the way a Christian parent loves their child. They love their child in a self-sacrificial way. They open up their life and they give of their time, they give of their money, they give of their efforts, they give all they are for the overall welfare of the child, and the child really contributes nothing, and—if we’re honest—is often ungrateful. The parent cares about them being healthy and happy. They care about them being fed and having a roof over their head. But above everything, what a Christian parent wants for their child is for that child to come to know and love Jesus. They want the child to love Him, to live for Him and with Him forever. So their love for their child plays out in numerous different ways, but ultimately it’s all working together for this one great goal: for them to know Jesus. And that’s how we are to love. This is how we are to love everyone: neighbor, enemy, everyone—especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. We love with this great sacrificial love that is all working towards people being at peace with God, being reconciled to God. And when we love people like that, at great cost to ourselves, that is when we stand out as salt and when we shine out as light. To be salt and light is to be many things, but above all it is to love sacrificially, regardless of how we are treated in return. And Christians can do this because we are satisfied in Christ, He is our great reward that is in heaven, and in Him we have already been given mercy and peace, we have been loved at a greater magnitude than we can fully comprehend. And that love is what drives us to love sacrificially for God’s glory and the good of people. That’s what Jesus is laying out here; and all this is really is, is basic Christianity…

In the beatitudes, all Jesus is showing us is what the gospel looks like as it impacts and plays out in a person’s life. And here He’s bringing all of this together and showing us what the gospel looks like played out in a community of people. It takes a community to make a city, and when a community is this impacted, this transformed by the gospel they become a city set on a hill—a city that stands out and shines out… So what Jesus is telling us here is really that the church is what the gospel looks like when played out in the lives of a community of people. The church, essentially, is the proof of the gospel, because only the gospel can transform people into the type of people who live and love like this… So the church is the city set on a hill, the church is the salt of the earth, is the light of the world… but only when the gospel is impacting and transforming in the way that Jesus lays out here. When the culture of the church is like what Jesus lays out here, when the church has a gospel-culture then they stand out and shine out in such a way that it impacts others outside the church, and they too give glory to the Father.

This is the same thing that Jesus was talking about in John when He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). In other words, by this great sacrificial love that you have inside your community of faith, people will know that you are Jesus’ disciples, you will stand out and shine out in such a way that people will see the truth of the gospel, and they will give glory to the Father, they will surrender their lives to Jesus. And that’s what we’re after: seeing people come to know and love Jesus, and then to stay in and grow in that knowledge and love for Jesus, until they make it home to Jesus—simply evangelism and discipling, being merciful peacemakers…

Conclusion

What Jesus is showing us here, is that when all of this comes together rightly, when the gospel impacts, takes root, and transforms the lives of His people, His people then come together as a church, and that church then has a gospel-culture about it. And remember what we said about culture: our culture is defined by how we live and function; it’s how we believe and act without giving it much thought; it’s our instincts, as it were. And the person who is transformed by the gospel, the people who have been and are being transformed by the gospel have gospel-instincts.

When this type of culture is cultivated in a church, when a church has a gospel-culture, Jesus is telling us that, that church—by God’s grace—will be powerful, they will be a change-agent in the life of the world around them. The church doesn’t need big budgets, big events, or fancy programs; what the church needs is the gospel. And when that gospel so takes root in their life that they embody all the beatitudes: when they are poor in spirit, sin mourning, meek, merciful, pure, peacemakers who are only satisfied in Christ, their lives will be so counter the world and so Christ-centered, that the world will be hostile to them, but the world will also be impacted by them. So do you see what this means? What this church needs in order for us to have a bigger impact, in order for us to reach more people, is simply, us… God is sovereign; and in His providence He has brought us here to be a part of Cornerstone Baptist Church, and what He’s teaching us in this passage, is that we are His plan for reaching the world, we are His plan for impacting the world for Christ. What we need in order to have a bigger impact is for the gospel to have a bigger impact on us, so that we then will be obedient to Jesus’ call on our life.

And you see, this is why I said in the beginning that if a church just does good things when there is an event, a program, or an initiative, that’s not really all that remarkable… And it’s certainly not gospel-transformation, it’s just typical behavior-modification… But if the gospel so transforms us that we daily live out lives that embody all that Christ has laid out here—especially lives of cross-shaped love, sacrificial love—then that will then be incredibly remarkable… When we so open up our lives to people and give of our time, of our money, of our efforts, and give of all that we are in love for the overall welfare of those around us, especially their eternal welfare—seeking to help them come to know and be at peace with God—then people will begin to take notice, and by God’s grace some will bow the knee to Jesus and give glory to God. And again, that’s what we’re after.

So I could try to micromanage all of this and create programs and events, and start initiatives, in an attempt to help this church have an impact on the community; but without gospel transformation, all of that is just behavior modification… It’s not programs that we need, it’s a gospel-culture that we need, because gospel-culture has within it a culture of evangelism and missions where we seek to reach the lost by advancing the gospel in Terrell out to the ends of the earth; and a culture of discipling, where we help one another grow in the gospel, seeking to advance the gospel deep into hearts. In a culture of discipling we help one another grow in Christ by massaging the gospel into one another’s hearts. We help each other grow in our knowledge of, love for, and obedience to Christ.

So, what Jesus is telling us here, is that the way we will have a gospel impact on the world around us is through the faithful daily Christian life, a life lived with gospel instincts. The way we will have an impact on the world around us is when we have a gospel-culture in this church, where we are so in love with Jesus that we love others at great cost to ourselves. But that starts by being poor in spirit. We will never love others at great cost to ourselves if we are full of ourselves. So, are you? Are you poor in spirit? Before we can be poor in spirit we must be full of the Spirit; God must come in and break our hearts over our sin—He must show us that we are spiritually bankrupt. But when He gets us there, He then builds upon that foundation a beautiful gospel-transformed life that stands out as salt and shines out as light. May God so pour out His Spirit on us that this is exactly who we would be…