Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Martin Lloyd-Jones on the Sermon on the Mount

Thanks to one of my students, I came across this quote from Martin Lloyd-Jones on the Sermon on the Mount:

"[T]he Sermon on the Mount is a description of character and not a code of ethics or of morals. It is not to be regarded as a law- a kind of new ‘Ten Commandments’ or set of rules and regulations which are to be carried out by us-but rather as a description of what we Christians are meant to be" (D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Vol.1, [IVP, 1966], 23).

This is not how you should interpret the SOTM! This makes the strenuous commands of the SOTM more like ideals one can gaze at with awe, rather than seeing it as the manifesto for the new kingdom community that Jesus called his disciples to be. Disciples of Jesus are to be followers, not fans of his teachings. They are called to radical obedience not meditation on how good we might conceivably be one day.


Sam said...


Kyle said...

This is not how you should interpret DMLJ! Ideals are put forward not to gaze at, but to give oneself over to.

Marty said...

Hey Mike,

You say, "Disciples of Jesus are to be followers, not fans of his teachings. They are called to radical obedience not meditation on how good we might conceivably be one day."

Isn't that posing a false choice? It's not an either / or but a both / and. Surely, we are to love as well as practise Christ's teaching. Moreover, don't we groan until one day we can be righteous in the New Creation?

Indeed, it seems to me that our love for the teaching of Jesus must precede obedience. As Jesus said you can judge a tree by it's fruit; good trees bring forth good fruit. Character is always prior.

Blessings bro.

Matt said...

As a correlative, I'd be interested to see his views on war. Something tells me he wasn't a pacifist.

Tim Bertolet said...

Without really knowing the context of Lloyd-Jones' comments, isn't he striking at the same idea that modern commentators are getting at when they say for example the beatitudes are the pronouncement of eschatological blessings rather than primarily ethical exortations?

Wouldn't the distinction between 'indicative' and 'imperitive' be helpful here? It is those who are members of the kingdom (indicative; 'eschatologically blessed') who have the imperitive upon them (how they should be; commands to follow).

Just a thought.

Phil said...

Bill Dumbrell says that the Sermon on the Mount is a 'covenant recall to Israel' which 'recalled Israel to the covenant and had the reconstitution of scattered Israel in mind.' (The New Covenant; The Synoptics in Context, p30). Ummm - wouldn't that change everything? (For example, it might read more like a critique of what Israel failed to do ... and a final warning not to throw away their 'kingdom pearl'.) Any disciples of Dumbrell around here?

newbeginning said...

Mike, have you read Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy? I commend it to you. It is an extended reflection on the SOTM. Willard would most certainly agree with your statement that "Disciples of Jesus are to be followers...of his teachings. They are called to radical obedience." In fact, his book "presents discipleship to Jesus as the very heart of the gospel." He would say that "The really good news for humanity is that Jesus is now taking students in the master class of life" . . . that "the message of and about him is specifically a gospel for our life now...it is about living now as his apprentice in kingdom living" (xvii). After all, "whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:19).

Having said that, he would agree with DMLJ that Jesus is not here giving "laws" -- because Jesus "knew that we cannot keep the law by trying to keep the law" (142), for "trying merely to keep the law is not wholly unlike trying to make an apple tree bear peaches by tying peaches to its branches" (133).

Rather, the heart of the SOTM is Jesus teaching us to "aim to become the kind of person from whom the deeds of the law naturally flow. The apple tree naturally and easily produces apples because of its inner nature" (142-3). He is encouraging us to attend to the source of our actions, the human heart . . .

- to "make the tree good" so that "its fruit will be good," because it is "out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:33);

- to "First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean" (Matthew 23:25-26);

- to not be content merely to clean up ("whitewash") our exterior (how we appear to people from the outside) while ignoring the stench of death and hypocrisy and wickedness that reside "on the inside" in our hearts (Matthew 23:27-28).

The right living that would flow from us thus learning to "do the will of God from the heart" (Ephesians 6:6) would then "surpass that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law" (Matthew 5:20), and avoid the condemnation they received for scrupulously attending to the details of external law-keeping while "you neglect justice and the love of God" (Luke 11:42).

So Willard suggests, "we need to put the idea of laws entirely out of our minds. Jesus is working...at the much deeper level of the source of actions, good and bad. He is taking us deeper into the kind of beings we are, the kind of love God has for us, and the kind of love that, as we share it, brings us into harmony with his life. No one can be 'right' in the kingdom sense who is not transformed at this level" (155).

Phil said...

Obviously no disciples of Dumbrell around here...