Sermon on the Mount II

Dallas Willard Part 24 of 34

In 1993 Dallas began teaching an intensive two-week residential course for Fuller Theological Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry program. His task was to teach about spiritual life in a systematic way so that its full connection to the work of the minister was clear. These sessions from 2012 are from Dallas’s last year of teaching the course before he died. Though a bulk of the course was usually centered on the nature and practice of disciplines, the beginning of the course dealt with more theological themes like the nature of spiritual reality and the end of the course dealt with topics in spirituality like vocational issues. [Editor’s Note: We know that the class was taped on other occasions and would be glad to find these recordings.]


OK; let’s try to pull ourselves together for a little longer and now, the main thing I want you to get out of the Sermon on the Mount other than that it is a sermon and that we can learn to do everything that it said to do is that this is NOT a set of laws. I have tried to put that in terms of the heading on your page 76. Consider if you will the heart that Jesus gives seen in the Sermon on the Mount so now, what are these? Well, these are illustrations of how the transformed heart might well behave in ways that are counter-cultural, shall we say? So, when we come to these statements in the sermon that have statements that really cause a lot of grief, like “turn the other cheek.” Right? You want to remember that He is not giving you a law that says, “every time you are struck, turn the other cheek.” Now, I don’t know how to state it more boldly in order to draw the fire of the anguished Pharisee who says, “Oh, it’s got to be that way. It’s got to be that way.” Someone says, “Every time someone asks you for something, give it to him.” Now, one of Satan’s devices with Jesus’ teachings and actually with any good thing is to make it look foolish and he has really worked overtime on the Sermon on the Mount. So, now, what are we to say to this? I’m to say and then you are to disagree if you want. We have here a continuing way of teaching that puts the responsibility of judgment on you and me. So, Jesus says, “When you have then to dinner”—and we looked at Luke 14—“don’t invite your parents.”—No! Should you? [3:00] Well, I think if you will reflect on the overall way of Jesus’ teaching and what He has in mind, you might well decide that there would be circumstances when you would invite your rich neighbor over for dinner—that this would be good. See, the temptation of legalism is always to abolish your responsibility for judgment. The legalist wants to not to have to be responsible for making a judgment. [3:35] And so, you go and take the teachings of Jesus and then you will say, “Well, never resist evil.” Now what? Well, you are going to see a lot evil that needs resisting is what you are going to see and you are going to think, “if I were a loving person, I would resist it.” Now, the mere fact that when I am hit, I should not automatically hit back and Jesus certainly is teaching that. It doesn’t mean that I should not on appropriate occasions resist. Now, of course if you don’t agree with that, then you are going to push non-violence as a law and you will not resist evil when it needs to be resisted. Now, how you resist evil? Of course, that’s an issue—you have to make a judgment about that—how far you go in resistance of evil—and all of the teachings of Jesus are like that. [5:00]


Now, some of them of course look more like that and if you say, “don’t lay up for yourselves treasures on earth.” Now, there’s a good one.  Now, how about that? What’s He teaching? “Don’t trust your treasures on earth.”  Right? “And lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven?” Right?  So, what I am most concerned to say to you on this particular point is you are called to make judgments and a part of your growth as a disciple of Jesus is learning how to make judgments. Now, you are out from under justification by law and so there is latitude in what you are going to do but you are going to stand out like—as Paul says—lights in a darkened world. When you begin to follow Jesus and you learn to locate your blessedness in the right place and you learn how to escape the traps of evil that govern the world because you know how to live in the Kingdom of God and not conform either to the evil or to the legalism that dominates our world. [6:43]


So, I say at the bottom of the sheet here, “The commands of Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount are invitations to be a certain type of person though faith and discipleship to Him has become inwardly transformed so that his behaviors flow naturally from who they now are as His mature brothers and sisters under the present rule of God.” Now, try that on. But the inevitable outcome of misunderstanding the sermon is passivity and the idea that we cannot do it. We simply can’t do it and then you come down and you look at Him and clearly He supposes that we should do it.  So, if I have someone who does violence to me, I don’t immediately retaliate, I still have the question of what am I going to do and if you are literally struck on one cheek and you turn the other, now what? See, there is always a next step and legalism never tells you what you are going to do about that. You have to decide, right? [8:08]


So, the sermon is not a complete list of laws; it isn’t a list of laws at all. It is a list of behaviors and the same thing carries over to the letters—Paul’s letters where they give instructions as to what we are to do. They are never the same. They never say exactly the same thing. Sometimes they say a few things that look very close to being the same but they are not the same. Why is that? Because they are not laws. When you are dealing with laws, you make sure they say exactly the same thing. That’s the way laws are but if you are dealing with an expression of a kind of life, you don’t need to say exactly the same thing because if you fit into the general pattern, it will come along in a good way. See, that’s where we get back to what is the attitude of God toward us and the attitude of God towards us is we are responsible as people who are living as the disciples of Jesus in the Kingdom of God. We are responsible for our lives. What are we learning? We are learning how to live our life and that’s not just a matter of getting the rules down and sticking to them. It is a matter of living with Jesus in such a way that we learn to exhibit His power and His character. And that is caught up in many, many places—different ways of being said in the gospels and in the letters but they are not laws that tell you what you must do. Will you do them? Yeah, you will do them rightly and you will stand out as a person of righteousness because the Power and character of Christ will come through you. [10:18]


Q: If people do not know the rules, then how will they use them? (Punctuation wrong in the picture.)


A: You know when you are an Apprentice; you get some rules but if you succeed as an Apprentice, you know the limits of the rules and you don’t just try to follow the rule, right? You are installing pipes or electrical wiring or something of that sort, you know the rules—that’s a part of your learning process—and if you approach it in this way, then you will actually wind up being able to do the job and the same thing is true with reference to the Sermon on the Mount.


But the tendency to say, “it’s got to be laws” is just so overwhelming that many people can never think outside of it and interestingly enough the effect of that is, they don’t do it and they may have been making a big fuss; “oh, we are supposed to do it” but they don’t do it. They give up because what they are trying to do is impossible. [11:34]


Let me give you another story, okay? This is from 2 Kings 13. It is the story of the Joash, the King of Israel coming down to see Elisha as he is on his deathbed. Elisha wants to give him some encouragement—verse 15—now, 2 Kings 13:15: Elisha said to him, “Take a bow and arrows.” So he took a bow and arrows. Then he said to the king of Israel, “Put your hand on the bow.” And he put his hand on it, then Elisha laid his hands on the king’s hands—now, take time to imagine this—And he said, “Open the window toward the east,” and he opened it. Then Elisha said, “Shoot!” And he shot. And he said, “The Lord’s arrow of victory, even the arrow of victory over Aram, for you will defeat the Arameans at Aphek until you have destroyed them.” Well, that’s a nice story—how does it go from here? Then he said, “Take the arrows,” and he took them. And he said to the king of Israel, “Strike the ground,” and he struck it three times and stopped. So the man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck five or six times, then you would have struck Aram until you would have destroyed it. But now you shall strike Aram only three times.”  What about that one? I’m sure old Joash must have stood there totally beat; you know, like, “How was I to know? How was I to know?” What is going on here? You mean really? Not striking more? Was God up there counting them? [14:04]

Well, this is a story again about initiative. What was in Aram’s thinking; what was he thinking? Well, he wasn’t thinking about thrashing Aram until it was totally beat, I’ll tell you because he would have pretty certainly kept whacking the ground with the arrows if he had thought that. These kinds of passages point in a direction and then other passages fill them up. The passage in Luke 17:7 is about the unprofitable servant who only did their duty, right?  See, that goes in the same box with this and when you read the Sermon on the Mount, you have to keep that in mind, okay?  The issue is “Where is your heart? And within that, there is range for initiative and variation. So now you have to make judgments. You have to decide what to do and no one is going to tell you. You’ve got some rules and you’ve got some boundaries but not directions as to exactly what you are to do. That doesn’t come. OK? So, what do you think? So now, I want the issue to stand clearly before you. You are going to try to treat these as laws. If you do this, they will kill you as they have killed many people through the ages and they will set up boundaries between people and someone will take this one and build a denomination around it; so, that’s one way of doing it. The other way is to say, “I am looking at a certain kind of heart.” I am looking at what comes out of a heart that is devoted, not only to living in but learning to live in the Kingdom of God. So, now, I look at a statement, “someone strikes you on the one cheek, turn the other” and I say, “Now, this is something for me to learn.” I have to learn how to do this and I have to learn how to do this consistently with all of the other things that I see coming out of the Kingdom heart and so I am in a process of spiritual formation and that involves learning how to make judgments about what is important or what is less important and so on. Okay, well, I think that’s a very important point and I leave it for you to meditate on. [17:34]


As I turn now to look more closely at this idea of “you just can’t do it.” And there is a lot of hopelessness in that. I’d like to quote a few lines at this point from country songs about living the life: I don’t care if it rains or freezes, long as I’ve got my plastic Jesus fastened to the dashboard of my car; or Drop kick me Jesus through the goal post of life; the thing is, these are songs that people actually sing. Drop kick me Jesus through the goal post of life—Charlie Daniels has a song—Oh, Jesus, why do you love me? Oh, Jesus, why do you love me? For when I have a choice between right and wrong, I choose wrong two out of three. Sounds like a plan, doesn’t it? Johnny Cash—the beast in me is caged by frail and fragile bars. This is a theology that reigns in our religious culture. [19:08] It is a theology of hopelessness. It does not project change and I’ve included in your reading here on page 78, I got Mike __________’s permission to use this but it’s such a beautiful illustration to how one settles out. He talks about how he was converted and how he thought that this was going to lead to a real change in him that this was real, this conversion and it was the beginning on the bottom of that first column there on 78:


“This is the beginning of a glorious romp through life with God and I’ve never regretted it. But now he says a lot of time has passed since then. A lot of water has gone under the bridge. So much has happened in my life and my friends’ lives in these last four decades that my faith has truly taken a beating. It’s still there but it doesn’t look much like it did in the beginning years of my Christian life. A lot of assumptions have been disappointed. I’ve disappointed God in so many ways. I’ve been disappointed by so many mentors—Christians who I admired greatly who stumbled and fell, never again to recover their faith. So many truths about the gospel that seemed to turn out to be false; so many casualties, so many losses, so many assumptions that turned out just to be false.  Now, one such assumption in particular has haunted me throughout all my Christian experience—the assumption of the changed life. I was taught that if I was a Christian, then people would see a marked difference in my life and further, I was taught that the closer I was to God, the greater and more visible that difference would be. I’ve always believed there was a visible side of the invisible reality of the conversion. I believed that Christianity changed you from the outside, not just the inside. I don’t believe that anymore. God is often visible only to God. [22:10]


OK, so, now, that’s an attitude. What he says is different—he says later on is there is a difference but what is different is different from what I thought. That’s a fascinating statement and I have included along with that this piece form Philip Yancey on page 80 called Be Ye Perfect, More or Less and what he does here, and then he later turned this into a book is to contrast Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky and notice under his name on the title page there, “and the impossible Sermon on the Mount.” This is what I am dragging you through right now. So, do you think that is really possible? Impossible? How do we approach it now? What are we to think? [23:10]


Now, I just want to line out quickly the position he takes here and that is that Tolstoy actually tried to do what he thought Jesus said to do and failed miserably but he stayed with it, continually beat himself up about failing. On the third column in on this article he says—about the middle end of the paragraph, “the ideals Tolstoy encountered in the gospels attracted him like a flame. His failure to live up to them ultimately consumed him.” And, when you know Tolstoy’s life, you can sure believe that. His poor wife—what she suffered—and Tolstoy’s efforts to destroy his own fortune and leave his children and his wife with nothing—it didn’t quite turn out that way but there was a constant struggle where he tried to do that. So, that’s one side of the picture; that’s the Tolstoy side and it is that The Sermon on the Mount is impossible. Now, I just remind you. I said it is impossible if you think it’s a bunch of laws. It is impossible and if you try to implement the separate statements, especially as a law standing by itself, it’s not only impossible, it will kill you probably. So that’s one side of the picture. [25:21]


The other side of the picture is Dostoyevsky and Dostoyevsky is very different in his way in the sense that it wasn’t that he lived so differently from Tolstoy and it certainly was not that he managed to do what the Sermon on the Mount says but he accepted that he wouldn’t do the Sermon on the Mount and simply went ahead and did what he was going to do. He was a compulsive gambler and had other problems. Most of his novels, I guess were written under the whip of the debtor trying to pay off his gambling debts and other debts, so he led quite a miserable life but he was a lovable person who managed to simply rest in the grace of God but he didn’t change. It’s just that he didn’t torture himself about changing as Tolstoy did. So, this is the presentation that has been made here of these two remarkable authors, both of whom undoubtedly were Christian— undoubtedly in so far as that has any meaning at all—you can count on it but both of them accept the idea that you simply can’t do it. [27:15]


So, now on page 82, next to the last paragraph there, “I call these two Russians my spiritual directors because they helped me accept the central paradox of the Christian life. First, from Tolstoy I learned the need to look inside to the Kingdom of God that is within me, saw how miserably I had failed the ideals of the Gospel but from Dostoyevsky I learned the full extent of grace. Not only the Kingdom of God is within me, Christ Himself dwells there where sin increased, grace increased all the more is how Paul expressed it in Romans.” Now, you might want to do a little exegesis there and see if you think Paul actually said what the author here is suggesting that he said. “There is only one way for any of us to resolve the tension between the high ideas of the Gospel and the grim realities of ourselves to accept that we will never measure up but we do not have to. We are judged by the righteousness of the Christ who lives within, not our own righteousness. Tolstoy got it half way right—anything that makes me feel comfort with God’s moral demands, anything that makes me feel at last I have arrived is a cruel deception. Dostoyevsky got the other half right—anything that makes me feel discomfort with God’s forgiving love is also a cruel deception. There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” Again, you want to look at the exegesis of these passages to see if they are saying what is assumed here. OK? Where does that leave you?


OK; I’ve got five minutes and I want to leave you with one little thing left and this is on page 84 because I want you to see one way of solving this problem and it is to say, “Well, there is one class of people that do it, and then there is another class that doesn’t.” I’ll just quickly read this and we will have to come back to this and finish it up tomorrow—no doubt about that. [30:19]


So, this is from Eucebius. Eucebius was a person who lived in the 2 and 300’s and was the Bishop of Caesarea and the Father of church history and so on. So here we have now, the demonstration of the gospel that the Christian life is of two characters. The one wrote on lifeless tablets, the other wrote the perfect commandments of the new covenant on living minds and His disciples, according to their teaching to the minds of the people according to the Master’s will delivered, on the one hand, to those who were able to receive it, the teaching given by the perfect master of those who rose above human nature while on the other side of the teaching which they considered suitable to men still in the world of passion and in need of treatment, they accommodated to the weakness of the majority and handed over to them to keep sometimes in writing and sometimes in unwritten ordinances to be observed by them. Two ways of life”—okay, so now you see what happens here is—you are taking Dostoyevsky and you are making that one way of life and you are taking Tolstoy as another way of life and both of these ways of life are legitimate expressions of the Gospel, okay?—So,“Two ways of life where that is given by the law of Christ to His church—the one was above nature and beyond common, human living. It admits not marriage, childbearing, property, nor the possession of wealth but holy and permanently separate from the common, customary life of mankind, it devotes itself to the service of God alone in its wealth of Heavenly love and they who enter on this course appear to die to the life of mortals to bear with them nothing but body and in mind and spirit to have passed to Heaven like some celestial beings, they gaze upon human life performing the duty of a priesthood to Almighty God for the whole race, not with the sacrifice of bulls and blood, nor with libations and ungiance(?), nor with smoke and consuming fire and destruction of bodily things but with right principles of true holiness and of a soul purified in disposition above all with virtuous deeds and words that such they  propitiate the divinity and celebrate their priestly rights for themselves and for their races. Such then is the perfect form of the Christian life.” Now—don’t-Tolstoy didn’t go there, okay because he had been sick to death by the rituals of the priests so what he does is he picks up on the teachings of Jesus and says, “Ok, we’ve go to do those.” But that’s not a life of this world, frankly as his wife well knew. “The other more humble, more human, permits men to join in pure nuptials and to produce children to undertake government to give orders to soldiers fighting for right and allows them to have minds for farming and trade and more secular interests as well as religion and it is for them that times of retreat and instruction and days of hearing sacred things are set apart. A kind of secondary grade of piety is attributed to them giving just such help as such lives require so that all men, whether Greeks or Barbarians have their part in the coming salvation and profit by the preaching of the Gospel.” OK? Two ways of life—but now do you think we are out of this now? You guys are supposed to be in the first, right? That’s what your parishioners think—these are Heavenly—practically not of this world. OK; I want to leave that with you and think about it and we will pick up there, God willing in the morning.

Listen to all parts in this Spirituality and Ministry 2012 series