Summary: We need to be credible as Christians if we’re to fulfill our reason for being here - to share the gospel with those we meet. We’ll do this by showing the sorts of Characteristics that Jesus describes in the sermon on the mount and by the way we live toget
There’s no doubt that Christianity and the Church are currently experiencing our greatest crisis of credibility since the middle ages. We have people in various parts of the world killing each other on the grounds of their particular version of Christianity. We have the churches split into countless different denominations, even varieties of denominations. We have ministers and priests in gaol for sexual abuse of parishioners and even children. We have church leaders who question the very basics of the Christian faith. And on top of all that there’s the pervasive view in our culture at the moment that any type of spirituality is OK. It doesn’t matter what sort of spirituality it is. All roads lead to Rome, as it were! So we shouldn’t worry about convincing others about our personal beliefs. Leave them to believe whatever they want, it won’t matter. And we end up with both a crisis of credibility in the wider community and a crisis of confidence within our own ranks.
So we have a problem if we’re to do our job as a church, to proclaim the gospel to those millions who have never heard it. We need to plug the gaps in our credibility if we’re to be heard and taken seriously. And it seems to me that the place we have to start is with our own credibility. The church will only ever regain its credibility if the world sees Christians behaving credibly. To put it a different way, we’ll only be listened to if people perceive us as people of integrity.
So where do we start in thinking about how to live credibly as Christians? I’ve thought about this for a bit over the last few weeks, not to mention earlier in the year when I first planned this series and it seems to me that one of the best places to start is with the instructions Jesus gave to his disciples in the sermon on the mount. Now you’ll be pleased to know that we’re not going to look at all of the sermon on the mount today. There’s more than that to look at, but it might be worth reading it through during the week, to see the sorts of things Jesus talked about as he taught his disciples how to live lives of integrity as God’s people.
But for now, let’s just concentrate on the first 10 verses of ch5. What are the sorts of characteristics that might mark out a Christian as a person of integrity, or that might lend us a credibility that we wouldn’t otherwise have.
We’ll be poor in spirit. That is we’ll have a humility about us that says that we’re not the centre of the universe. And we’re not islands. We don’t think we can just do it our way. Rather we’ll be people who acknowledge our need of others, our need to be part of a community of believers. Our need for the power of God to overcome the difficulties that life brings.
We’ll be among those who mourn. I guess we need to think about that on a number of levels. We’ll mourn over the suffering we see around us; over the brokenness we see in our world; over the helplessness of people who are lost and without hope beyond this world. But we’ll also mourn over our own spiritual failings, our inability to please God. And as we mourn, we’ll begin to see how the gospel deals with our failure by wiping it out. We’ll see how the gospel offers people a new hope; a new source of comfort, because it shows that God is still in control of our world, as out of control as it might seem at times.
We’ll be meek. Not weak. That’s not at all the meaning of meekness. Rather someone who’s meek has strength that’s under control. The image is of a quarterhorse or a battle charger that responds instantly to its master’s commands. So we’ll be people who are under the control of God, who respond to his leading and prompting. Who are self-disciplined rather than self-willed.
We’ll hunger and thirst for righteousness. Let’s face it, at times in this world you could die of thirst waiting for righteous outcomes. But we’ll be people who protest when we see the unrighteous prosper and the righteous put down. We’ll support those who work for worthy causes. We’ll encourage governments and policy makers to make just laws and regulations. We’ll vote for politicians who are people of integrity, whose policies lead to just outcomes for everyone in the community.
And we’ll be people who show righteousness in our lives, even at the risk of persecution (v10). Some of you will have heard the story of Gibbo, a man who worked for Gordon Selfridge, the owner of the English department store chain. Soon after he started working for Gordon Selfridge the phone rang. It was someone wanting to talk to Mr Selfridge. Selfridge said, "Tell him I’m out." Gibbo handed him the phone and said "You tell him you’re out." Well, Selfridge was furious. When he got off the phone he began to tear shreds off Gibbo. But Gibbo simply replied, "If I can lie for you, I can lie to you." Needless to say, he ended up being the most trusted person in the firm! That’s integrity in action isn’t it? Mind you, being righteous doesn’t mean being self-righteous. I’m sure we’ve all come across those people who trumpet their righteousness to all and sundry. They’re the sort who give Christians a bad name. But truly righteous people do it unobtrusively yet with sincerity and purpose. As we’ll see in a moment, they do it from their heart.