Eight Qualities of Solid Christian Character
Sunday, September 28, 2014 - 6:00 p.m. Sermon #: 1654
Pastor Don Horban
Later on in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus said this - “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.  You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean” (Matthew 23:25-26).
It is striking that in the single block of instruction we have recorded of how Jesus said we were to implement following Him in this world - the teaching where He covers more subjects than anywhere else in the gospel record - Jesus begins His most famous sermon, not talking about their actions at all, but focuses on the inward character of His disciples. The only measurement of spiritual vitality is transformed character. The change Jesus makes in a life is not merely one of outward behavior and religious observance. Those are the fruits of the new birth, not the source. Spiritual life is measured not by mere deeds, but the motives behind those deeds.
This is a sermon for disciples. These are not the kinds of changes we can produce on our own, and, even if we could produce them for a time, they would boost our own pride, rather than glorify God. Also, notice how Jesus pronounces a blessing with each Christ-like character trait that grows in our lives. Each beatitude finishes with more promise than we would have imagined. What looks like the way down is really the way up. The constant battle for the Christian is to unlearn the world's system and allow the words and power of Jesus their proper place.
The world implements morality with a hunger to be seen by peers. It is not accidental that there so frequently just happens to be a television camera zeroing in on celebrity philanthropy.
1) GOD ONLY ENTERS HEARTS WHEN ROOM IS MADE FOR HIM - 3 - “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”James, the brother of Jesus, states the same truth in a negative form when he says God resists the proud. We need to exercise caution when approaching spiritual life from the postmodern stance of unabashed self-fulfillment. The Scriptures teach God makes His approach into our heart when He witnesses our brokenness and humility:
Isaiah 57:15 - "For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”
Isaiah 66:1-2 - "Thus says the Lord: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?  All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”
The point of these texts and Jesus’ beatitude isn’t just that we are all broken and needy before Almighty God. That’s obvious, and the Scriptures waste little time making that point. The point of these texts is our need to assess ourselves as needy, poor in spirit, and broken. A poor spirit cleans the soul for God’s arrival. The poor in spirit see God in a way that is unique and intimate.
2) GOD IS MOVED BY A SPIRIT OF REPENTANCE - 4 - “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” This is not the sorrow of this world. Jesus wasn't talking about self-pity or despair or people who have had sad things happen to them. He was talking about an accurate assessment of human sin, both in ourselves and in others. He was calling for a deep sorrow for the way sin grieves God and damages so many lives.
Obviously, this is the root of intercession and outreach to this fallen world. Also, this keeps my own heart tender to the first pains and chains of sins that would otherwise be treated too lightly to be shunned with passion. People who mourn are people who make much of their sin, not little. They are hurt by the ungodliness of sin, not just the personal pain their sin brings to themselves.
Psalm 119:136 - "My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law.”
In our own quest for holiness, it is this kind of mourning that leads to confession, forgiveness, transformation and a renewal of the joy of the Lord. In the long run, it brings the deepest kind of comfort and strength:
2 Corinthians 7:9-11 - “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.  For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.  For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.”
3) IN MY DEALINGS WITH OTHERS, I'M TO HAVE AN ACCURATE REMEMBRANCE OF MY OWN FALLENNESS - 5 - “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones says, "Meekness denotes a humble and gentle attitude to others which is determined by a true estimate of ourselves." Paul talks about the same thing in Galatians 6:1-2 - “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.  Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
Perhaps meekness is best defined by its opposite spirit - a spirit that always has to retaliate - to prove itself right - to precipitate confrontation over every issue. Meek people can easily put themselves in the shoes of the irritable and ugly. This relates back to being poor in spirit.
4) SPIRITUAL SUPPLY IS DETERMINED BY SPIRITUAL HUNGER - 6 - “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Perhaps this, in Jesus’ mind, is the primary condition when it comes to being filled with righteousness of God. I simply must want Him more than anything else. Matthew 6:33 is a restatement of this same truth. God promises nothing to the casual seeker.
Hunger is the word Jesus used. Hunger is more than wishing. Hunger is desire that's become focused to the point of driving the one who is hungry. It is desire, yes, but desire that has consumed its subject. The best picture for the kind of desire Jesus is talking about is the way your stomach feels about food if it hasn't eaten for two or three days.
Perhaps we could say it like this: the things of the Spirit never come to contented people. To receive of the Spirit there must be inward discontent and hunger for more. There is a cycle here - a paradox - we must seek the Lord and pray both because we are spiritually hungry and as a result of being spiritually hungry.
5) MERCY COMES TO THOSE WHO SHOW IT - 7 - “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Behold strong truth. Discipleship isn’t measured by a love for receiving mercy. Everyone loves receiving mercy. Jesus calls us to love extending mercy with the same passion we have for receiving it. Jesus says we have to constantly realign our fallen thinking. Giving and receiving mercy are forever locked together.
See Matthew 18:21-25 - “Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”  Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.  “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.  When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.  And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.”
The reward of being merciful is we receive more mercy into our lives - both from God (Matthew 6:12-14) and from man (Luke 6:30-38).
Mercy from God - Matthew 6:12-15 - “....and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,  but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Mercy from others - Luke 6:30-38 - “Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.  And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.  “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.  And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.  But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.  Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.  “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;  give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
6) GOD COMES TO PEOPLE WHO WALK IN THE LIGHT - 8 - “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” We know God is a Spirit and can’t be seen with our eyes. Jesus is talking about seeing God in the sense of knowing Him personally - experiencing Him firsthand - and seeing the effects of His presence in our daily lives.
Notice the emphasis on purity of heart. It's not enough merely to appear pure to others. Jesus doesn't measure our lives by what we are like when with our peers. My life at the office must be as clean as in the sanctuary. See Psalm 24:3-5 - “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?  He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.  He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation.”
The best measure of purity of heart is the costly obedience to the Lord when no one else will ever know if I don’t.
7) REAL DISCIPLES HEAL DISCORD RATHER THAN CAUSE IT - 9 - “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Note, this is a blessing for peacemakers, not peacekeepers. Almost everybody loves peace. Jesus said real disciples would do something much more difficult. They would make peace. You keep peace with friends. You make peace with enemies. That always has a high cost. It will mean bearing the wrongs of others, taking the rap for things I didn't do (Isn't that what the cross of Jesus was all about?), putting myself in second (or third) place. Jesus said His true disciples would value peace over their own convenience or pride.
There is also the realistic recognition that we can’t make peace with those who don’t want peace. Our call is to do our best as unto the Lord and to trust the Lord with the results that seem out of our reach:
1 Corinthians 7:15 - “But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.”
1 Peter 3:11 - “....let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.”
Romans 12:18 - “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
8) REAL DISCIPLES KNOW THAT PERSECUTION THAT COMES FROM FAITHFULNESS TO JESUS IS MORE BENEFICIAL FOR THE KINGDOM IN THE LONG RUN THAN PERSONAL PLEASURE - 10-12 - “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  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.”
It's interesting that Jesus gives more space to this than to any other beatitude. He didn't want us to misunderstand what serving Him would entail in the real world. He didn't want us to miss where some of the greatest blessings would lie - under the surface of trial and persecution. He's encouraging us to stay in for the long haul. We are not always to best judges of where our spiritual growth will come from.