Lesson 64—May 3, 2015
Audio commentary by Life Focus Teacher David Daniel
An Introduction to the Importance of Christian Character
Scripture: Matthew 5:13-16
Lesson Goal: To better understand the influence of godly Christian character.
Introduction: Words of John R. W. Stott:
If the beatitudes describe the essential character of the disciples of Jesus, the salt and light metaphors indicate their influence for good in the world. Yet the very notion that Christians can exert a healthy influence in the world should bring us up with a start. What possible influence could the people described in the beatitudes exert in this hard, tough world? What lasting good can the poor and the meek do, the mourners and the merciful, and those who try to make peace not war? Would they not simply be overwhelmed by the floodtide of evil? What can they accomplish whose only passion is an appetite for righteousness, and whose only weapon is purity of heart? Are not such people too feeble to achieve anything, especially if they are a small minority in the world?
The world of Jesus’ day, as well as of 2015, would look at such words with skepticism and thoughts of impossibility. They would answer with a resounding “Yes!” to Stott’s questions of being overwhelmed, and too feeble.
It is evident that Jesus did not share this skepticism. Rather the reverse. Jesus referred to that handful of Palestinian peasants as the “salt of the earth” and “the light of the world,” so far reaching was their influence, Jesus resorted to two domestic metaphors. Every home, however poor, used and still uses salt and light. Salt and light are indispensable household commodities.
• In your own words, what do you know about “salt” and “light”?
• What are some properties or qualities of salt?
• What are some properties or qualities of light?
If you have someone in your Life Focus class who has done food distribution in Guatemala, please ask them to share the experience with the class.
• What does 5-pounds of salt mean to a Guatemalan family?
There were some in Jesus’ day, and some still today, who believe that in order to fulfill Jesus’ words of Christian character, one must become a complete separatist or develop a monastic lifestyle. Jesus teaches the exact opposite. Christians are not to withdraw from society. They are not to become isolationists. Rather, Jesus tells us that we (His followers) “must permeate society as agents of redemption” (Blomberg).
“[In verses 13-16], the Lord summarizes the function of believers in the world. Reduced to one word, that function is influence. Whoever lives according to the beatitudes is going to function in the world as salt and light. Christian character consciously or unconsciously affects other people for the better or for worse” (MacArthur). Jesus, in these four verses, is helping His followers to understand the importance of character as it influences others.
• What kind of influence do you, as a follower of Jesus Christ, wish to have upon others?
• Who are some people you are influencing? Please answer prayerfully and earnestly.
Does your influence, as a follower of Jesus Christ, matter at work, at school, in the classroom, on the ball field, at the beauty salon, at Hardee’s or McDonalds, at Kiwanis or Rotary club? Please explain.
Jesus uses the common, ordinary figures of salt and light to emphasize different characteristics of influence, but their basic purpose in these verses is the same—the true believers’ influence.
• How important is your Christian character? How do we, followers of Jesus, maintain godly Christian character? Verses 3-12 can help you answer.
A Word of Testimony
As a pastor for the last 34 years, God continues to teach me the fulfillment of Matthew 5:4 as it relates to verses 13 through 16. I have learned to mourn over my own many sins of neglect, commission, omission and disposition. I have also learned what it means to mourn for the sins of others, especially those who claim the name of Christ, but seemingly have a disregard for their own Christian character and godly influence. I can honestly say, with Jesus and my wife as my greatest witnesses, that I have been on my knees, or sitting at my dining room table, in the middle of the night making intercession for those of my flock who do not understand the importance of their personal Christian character and influence.
A few years ago, I preached a sermon on Christian character. I made the comment that when all is said and done in this life the only thing we take to heaven with us is our character. Following that message, one dear brother told me that our God had impressed upon him the importance of those words. The truth of those words made a lasting difference in the way he would live his life. >>>>>>>
Please ask God to help you to understand the importance of your own Christian character as it influences others. The reality is simply this—your character can influence people (family, friends, co-workers, teammates, classmates…) toward heaven or hell.
John MacArthur, in his commentary on Matthew, shares:
Many years ago Elihu Burritt wrote, “No human being can come into this world without increasing or diminishing the sum total of human happiness, not only of the present but of every subsequent age of humanity. No one can detach himself from this connection. There is no sequestered spot in the universe, no dark niche along the disc of nonexistence, to which he can retreat from his relations with others, where he can withdraw the influence of his existence upon the moral destiny of the world. Everywhere, his presence or absence will be felt. Everywhere, he will have companions who will be better or worse because of him (emphasize added). It is an old saying, and one of the fearful and fathomless statements of import, that we are forming characters for eternity. Forming characters? Where? Our own or others? Both. And in that momentous fact lies the peril and responsibility of our existence. Who is sufficient for the thoughts? Thousands of my fellow beings will yearly enter eternity with characters differing from those they would have carried thither had I never lived. The sunlight of the world will reveal my finger marks in their primary formations and in the successive strata of thought and life.
• In your own words, please summarize the words of Elihu Burritt. Ask God to give you wisdom as you write.
• Why is our Christian character so important?
• If our character is not true, what kind of eternal influence will we have on others?
• How is character different from reputation?