Have you ever seen a son that looked just like his father—a chip off the old block—the spitting image? If you haven’t, you’re about to because I want us to look at some pictures of some famous dads alongside their look-alike sons.
- This is Ice Cube and his son OMG—or is that Ice Cube on the right?
- This is Paul McCartney and his son James. Different hair—but same eyes!
- This is high plains drifter—Clint Eastwood and his son Scott. I wonder if chewing on cigars is genetic?
- Here’s another Beatle—George Harrison and his son Dhani.
- Here’s Tom and Colin Hanks.
- And last but not least, this is Donald Faison and his son Rocco who you can see has looked exactly like his famous dad from pretty much birth.
Isn’t it cool when children look like their dads—when a child’s appearance leaves no doubt as to their parentage?
The reason I got to thinking about this is because today, we come to a well-known passage of Scripture in which Jesus lists qualities—attitudes and behaviors that combine to make us recognizable as children of our HEAVENLY FATHER. Take your Bibles and turn to Matthew 5:33-48. As I read this text listen for these God-like traits. Jesus says,
33 – “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but KEEP the oaths you have made to the Lord.’
34 – But I tell you, do not swear at all: either by Heaven, for it is God’s throne;
35 – or by the earth, for it is His footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.
36 – And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.
37 – Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No;’ anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
38 – You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’
39 – But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
40 – And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
41 – If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
42 – Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
43 – “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
44 – But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
45 – that you may be sons of your Father in Heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
46 – If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?
47 – And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?
48 – Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Okay—how many specific Godly attitudes and actions did you count? I came up with three. Well, as verse 45 puts it, when we embrace these Godly character traits—in the same way that the young men we looked at a moment ago are clearly recognized as sons of their famous dads—we become clearly recognizable as “sons [and daughters] of our Father in Heaven.”
Verse 48 emphasizes this even further and says when we live life according to these Godly principles, we are then, “PERFECT, as our Heavenly Father is perfect.” And I want to make sure we understand this phrase. The word we translate as “perfect” is “teleios” in the Greek—and it is a word that referred to FUNCTIONAL perfection. In other words, in the New Testament era a thing was considered “teleios” when it fully realized the purpose for which it was planned, and designed, and made.
Let me share a personal illustration to help you see what I mean. When the hinges on the frames of my eyeglasses get loose—they don’t cling to my head—and when that happens my glasses slip down on my nose—which is very frustrating. So—I have to tighten them. The problem is the Philips head screw that needs tightening is very small—tiny—way too small for a typical-sized screw driver—but never fear—I have a little kit with tiny screw drivers. I bet all you glasses-wearers do. One is a very small Philips head that is the perfect size—or to use this word, it is “teleios” in that it was “PERFECT” for turning those tiny screws. That’s the kind of job this little screw driver was specifically designed to do. When I use it, it is “telios” in that it fulfills its unique purpose—which is to turn very tiny screws!
Similarly, as Jesus’ disciples we will be “teleios”—we will be perfect—if we fulfill the purpose for which we were created. Now—think about that a moment. What exactly is our purpose as human beings? Well, in Genesis 1:26 God speaks to the other two members of the Trinity and says mankind was “made after Our image and after Our likeness.” In other words, in the beginning we were created to be like God—to act like God. That is our intended purpose. As Jesus puts it later in this sermon, people are to see our GOOD works—our Godly works—and praise our Father, Who is in Heaven.
Of course, none of us succeed in this perfectly all the time. To borrow from my “telios example,” many times in life we “screw up” but nevertheless this is to be our goal. We are to always strive to become this kind of perfect person. As 1st Timothy 6:11 says, we are to “pursue Godliness.”
Well, as I said, in this portion of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus paints a detailed picture of a godly person by citing three examples of the ways that “teleios” Christians—or maturing Christians—or SOARING Christians—should live. When we live this way—act this way—we become recognizable as God’s children because these attitudes and actions are very counter-cultural—to the point of being directly opposed to our worlds ungodly standards. I mean, living out the teachings of this text sets us apart from the people who don’t know our Lord. It makes people who know us stop and think, “This person is different—but he or she reminds me of Someone—let’s see—who is it? Oh yes! This must be a child of God.”
With that in mind, let’s examine Jesus’ list. What are the attitudes and behaviors that our Lord said help us fulfill our purpose by making us more “teleios”—more like our Lord?
(1) First, Jesus says His children must be known for their commitment to the TRUTH.
Look back at verses 35-37. Our Lord says, “Do not swear at all. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Now, to understand this teaching we need to understand the background—the context—so let’s do a little digging. If we do that—if we look at the entire Bible we’ll see that God’s people were told to make oaths—told to swear in God’s name. Deuteronomy 10:20 says, “Fear the Lord your God and serve Him. Hold fast to Him and take your oaths in His name.” In the New Testament Paul frequently swears by the Lord, crying, “As God is my witness!” (Romans 1:9; 2nd Corinthians 1:23; Philippians 1:8; 1st Thessalonians 2:5, 10) What is discouraged in the Bible is making a vow, swearing to do something in God’s name and then not doing it. For example, in Leviticus 19:12 God says, “You shall not swear by My name falsely and so profane the name of your God; I am the Lord.”
The problem Jesus was addressing was this: the Bible’s teaching on vows had come under massive abuse in the 1st century. This is because somewhere along the line some rabbis began to teach that an oath was not binding if it did not include God’s name. So, if you swore by your own life or someone else’s life or by the sun or the moon or your mom’s grave—and did not mention the name of God—you were not bound to keep your promise. In this way falsehoods and lies were actually encouraged. People became masters at making vow sound truthful—when they weren’t BEING truthful.
And—truth be told—we are a lot like the Jews of Jesus’ day. I mean, we are good a qualifying our statements. How often do we say things like, “What I honestly mean” or “frankly” or “what I really mean” or “If you want me to shoot straight from the shoulder”—or “now let me really be truthful with you for a moment?” We use phrases like that as a way of saying that up to that point, you have no responsibility to believe what we say, but from here on comes the truth. This is a sad example of Christians being negatively influenced by our culture because the fact is, our society has gotten to the place where deceit is almost a lifestyle. Lewis Smeades once said, “The plain truth often puts one at a distinct disadvantage.” I mean, more and more, truth is a rare thing. I’m reminded of Daniel Webster’s statement: “There is nothing so POWERFUL as truth—and often nothing so STRANGE.” Several years back in an issue of THE CHRISTIAN CENTURY, Lloyd Steffen wrote, “Honesty now looks like a dubious virtue if not an actual vice. It is studied and examined as a stratagem rather than as a hallmark of character.” It has come to the point that we don’t even use the word “lie” anymore. Instead we say things like, “strategic misrepresentation” or “reality augmentation.”
I’m reminded of a story about a woman of wealth and social prominence. She wanted to have a book written about her genealogy, her history. So, she got a well-known author to look into her background and do the writing for her. When he came back for his first report, he was a bit chagrined, because in his research he found out that one of her great grandfathers was a murderer who had been electrocuted in Sing Sing. When he said this would have to be included in his report, she pleaded with him not to put that in there. She said, “You have to find a way of saying that—a way that hides the truth.” So, this is what he wrote in the book: “One of her great grandfathers occupied the chair of applied electricity in one of America’s best-known institutions. He was very much attached to his position and literally died in the harness.”
People will go to great extremes to protect their image. Deceit and dealing with less than the full truth is very much a part of our culture Deception is now commonplace in almost every arena. Like this author, we carefully tailor information. Politicians want the public to think certain things, and they put a spin on the truth. Executives put a spin on the facts, and a style of candor becomes more important than truth itself.
Sadly, this does not have good outcomes. A tragic example was reported by Bill Moyers in the PBS special The Truth about Lying. Moyers told of the seven astronauts who died in the Challenger space shuttle disaster and how they were never told of the dangers of launching in cold temperatures. Prior to the launch a behind-the-scenes debate was going on between the engineers of Morton Thiokol on one side and the company’s managers and NASA on the other.
To bolster NASA’s public image, information about the dangers of the launch was suppressed.
When Morton Thiokol’s engineers refused to give the go-ahead, they were removed from the decision-making process in spite of their serious objections. The Challenger was launched, and millions witnessed the disastrous consequences. Once the private debate became public, the world learned of NASA’s deception and cover-up. Lives were lost that horrible day because the truth was not told.
Now before you get too pious about all this deceit, how would you respond to the following scenarios?
- As a part of trying to move up the career ladder, you’re updating your résumé. You’ve heard the smart thing to do is to beef up the record a bit, give yourself a higher degree than you actually have, inflate your past salary and achievements. It won’t hurt anyone, but it will increase your chances of getting a better job and a higher pay. Would you do it?
- At a big warehouse store, you pick out a dozen items. In the checkout line, the clerk at the register overlooks a $55 power saw you didn’t move from the shopping cart onto the counter. If you say nothing, she probably won’t notice it as you leave. Even if she does, you can say you hadn’t realized she missed it. Would you keep quiet about it or would you report it?
- You’ll soon be moving across the country. Somebody you know says if you leave without paying your rent, telephone, fuel, oil, and lighting bills—none of the companies will spend the money necessary to collect from you clear across the country. You could save a lot of money if you just split. Would you do it?
I won’t ask how you did—I’ll just say that to SOAR—to become like Jesus—we have to be known for the way we respond to these dilemmas. We have to be known for people of the truth. I mean, Jesus calls us to develop a reputation so committed to integrity we never have to preface anything with an oath or a statement that says this is really true—because our lifestyle, our testimony, is such that we have the reputation for always saying the truth.
“Teleios” Christians—mature, Godly believers—are known as people of their word. As “sons” and “daughters” of the one TRUE God, they are known for the fact that they are committed to truth.
Do you know anybody like that — someone who’s as good as their word? Let me tell you about one. He was a 7-year-old Little League player named Tanner Munsey of Wellington, Fla.—whose truth-telling landed him in the pages of Sports Illustrated a few years ago. Tanner was playing first base when the ball was hit to him and he reached out to tag a baserunner as he ran from first to second. The umpire said, “You’re out!” But Tanner said to the ump, “Excuse me, but I missed him with the tag.” The umpire said, “What do you mean, you missed him?” The boy said, “I tried, but I didn’t tag him.” The umpire said, “Well, okay,” and he reversed his ruling and called the player safe. Can you picture a Major League player doing that? Or a basketball player? Can you see Lebron James tapping a REFEREE on the shoulder and saying, “Excuse me, but I just fouled a guy back there, and I really think he ought to get a free throw.” Well, let me tell you the rest of the story. Two weeks later, Tanner was playing shortstop in another game when the ball was hit to him and he went to tag another runner. The same umpire looked at the play and said, “Safe!” But he sensed something was troubling Tanner, so he asked what was wrong, and Tanner said, “I tagged him.” So, guess what the umpire did? He reversed his decision. He called the runner out. Of course, the opposing team’s manager came storming out of the dugout to protest, but the umpire told him about how Tanner had been truthful in that earlier game. The ump said, in effect, “This boy has shown me that he’s a truth-teller. If he says the runner’s out, he’s out.”
That’s what Jesus wants His followers to be known as: People who are as good as their word. Truth-tellers. Commitment-keepers. Promise-fulfillers. People who stand out from society’s background noise of deceit and deception and dishonesty. Remember, spiritual brothers and sisters, our elder Brother, Jesus, the Christ, says that one thing that identifies us as children of God is that we are honest—a truthful. Our yes means yes and our no means no.
Here’s a second character trait Jesus says should be found in every child of God.
(2) They RELEASE their rights to retaliate when wronged by others.
Look at verses 38-42 where Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
In verse 38 Jesus cites the oldest law in the world, “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,”
also known as Lex Talonis which appeared in the earliest known code of laws—the Code of Hammurabi, a man who ruled over Babylon from 2285 to 2242 BC. This ancient law became part of the ethics of the Old Testament. Exodus 21:23-25 says, “If there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” This tit-for-tat philosophy may sound savage but its original aim was to limit vengeance. Its purpose was to begin to help ungodly humanity learn to understand the concept of mercy.
In any case the people who heard Jesus’ sermon that day embraced this way of thinking. They had been taught that when attacked or insulted, retribution equaled justice! But Jesus said people who want to be perfect—people who want to be “teleios”—people who want to be recognized as His children—must respond differently. They must RELEASE their rights to hurt those who hurt them.
Jesus gives us four specific examples of this principle: walk the second mile, give away your tunic and your cloak, give to those who want to borrow from you—but in the interest of time I can only deal with the first where Jesus says when stricken we must turn the other cheek. And, we must understand, Jesus wasn’t just talking about a mere slap on the cheek here. He was talking about the way we should respond when people intentionally offend us.
You see, in that culture, a slap on the cheek was seen as a great insult. And to turn the other cheek, as a way of inviting a second slap was even more offensive because the back of the hand would have to be used. We refer to this kind of thing in our day and age by saying, “That was backhanded compliment if I’ve ever heard one!” When we say this, we are saying it wasn’t a compliment but an insult.
But the fact is even in our day we are very good at giving as good as we got when it comes to our response to the attacks and insults of others. We cheer for people with black-eyes who say, “If you think I look beat up, you should see the other guy!” Well, Jesus says, don’t do this. He says, “If you want to be like Me. Don’t respond in kind. Instead go against the flow—stand out by turning the other cheek.” And this is indeed the Christlike response. Remember, as Isaiah prophesied, Jesus was, “oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent—so He did not open His mouth.” (Is 53:7)
Well, part of resembling God involves our willingness to release our rights to retaliate against people who hurt us or take advantage of us. The great Christian author Watchman Nee whose picture is on the wall behind me once said, “Nothing has done greater damage to our Christian testimony than our trying to be RIGHT and demanding RIGHT of others. We become preoccupied with what is and what is not RIGHT. You ask me, ‘Is it right for someone to strike my cheek?’ I reply, ‘Of course not!’ But the question is, do you ONLY want to be right? As Christians, our standard of living can never be ‘right or wrong,’ but the Cross. The principle of the Cross is our principle of conduct. ‘Right or wrong’ is the principle of the Gentiles and tax gatherers. My life is to be governed by the principle of the Cross and the perfection of the Father.”
The cross is our standard. Those cross beams are a reminder of how we are to respond when wronged. I like how someone put it, “To return evil for good is devlish; to return good for good is human; to return good for evil is divine.” We should train ourselves such that our knee jerk reaction to the jerks of the world is not to retaliate. As wise King Solomon said., “A prudent man overlooks an insult.” (Proverbs 12:16) Even the former short-tempered Peter learned that we must not, “repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing—because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1st Peter 3:9)
When you learn this aspect of Godliness, you usually discover that the conflict ends as quickly as it began. And many times, this Christlike, unworldly response, has a powerful POSITIVE impact on our attackers.
The African American evangelist Tom Skinner, author of the book, Black & Free—was converted to Christ while he was leader of the largest toughest, teenage gang in New York City, the Harlem Lords. His conversion was so real that he left the gang the very next day, turning from a life of fighting and violence to one in which he preached the gospel of peace. He testifies that there was an immediate victory over crime and cruelty. Soon here was a victory over hate and bigotry as well. Several weeks after his conversion he was playing a football game in which as his assignment on one play, he blocked the defensive end while his own half-back scored a touchdown. As he got up from the ground to head back to the huddle, the boy whom he had blocked jumped in front of him in a rage and slammed his fist into Skinner’s stomach. As Skinner bent over from the blow he was hacked across the back. When he fell to the ground the boy kicked him shouting, “You dirty black nigger! I’ll teach you a thing or two.” Skinner said that under normal circumstances the old Tom Skinner would have jumped up from the ground and pulverized that white boy. But instead he got up from the ground and found himself looking the boy in the face and saying, “You know, because of Jesus Christ I love you anyway.” Later Skinner said that he even surprised himself with that response, but his new untypical reaction showed him that what the Bible had promised was true. He was indeed a new creature in Christ, and it was no longer necessary for him to operate on the old level of tit-for-tat, hate-for-hate. His desire to retaliate was gone. Plus, when the game was over and his attacker had some time to think about it, he came to Skinner and said, “Tom, you’ve done more to knock prejudice out of me by telling me that you loved me than you would have it you’d hit me in the jaw. I’m sorry for what I said and did.”
This leads to one final attitude that Jesus says makes it clear that we are God’s children.
(3) We act in LOVE all people—even our enemies.
Look at verses 43-47. Jesus says, “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”
Now, the people listening to Jesus’ sermon that day had HEARD IT SAID that they should hate their enemies—but they didn’t hear God saying this. He HAD told them to love their neighbors—but the Pharisees had added the last part about hating enemies. God has always taught His children to love—all people. As Proverbs 25:21 says, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.” So, it was the Pharisees who taught that love should be limited to those who deserve it and Jesus responded to this common FALSE teaching by saying, “No—if you want to be like God, you must act in love toward ALL people—even those who persecute you.” But please note, Jesus does NOT say, “Love the way your enemies live. Love the things they do. Defend their evil practices.” No—Jesus is talking about loving PEOPLE—people with eternal souls—spiritually blind men and women who know nothing of Christ’s power and love. You see, AGAPE love—GODLY love—looks beyond sinful actions. It sees beyond hateful words such that it is able to see another soul in need of help.
I think of the late Corrie ten Boom and her response to the Nazi guards who had brutalized her sister. She was able to look beyond what they had done and forgive them. She refused to live the rest of her life brimming with resentment and bitterness—because she wanted to be like her Heavenly Father and His love sees beyond the evil someone does. It is a love that is truly unconditional. I’m reminded of a poem I came across that was written by an 8-year-old. It goes like this:
We have the nicest garbage man,
He empties out our garbage can;
He is just as nice as he can be;
He always stops and talks with me!
My mother doesn’t like his smell.
But then, she doesn’t know him very well.
Godly love is a love that values—cherishes—all people in spite of their “smell.” Regardless of their sins, Godly love—loves the sinner.
In 1938, in a Russian prison, about 250 miserable men were herded together in one small cell. Among them was David Braun. Soon David became aware of a Greek Orthodox priest in their midst. The old man had been thrown into prison because of his faith. His peaceful, radiant face made him stand out in that awful place like a candle in the dark. You couldn’t miss him. It was probably because of this that he became the target for the sarcastic and blasphemous remarks of two of the prisoners. They were continually harassing him. They bumped into him. The mistreated him. They mocked everything that was holy to him. But always the priest was gentle and patient. One day, David received a food parcel from his wife. When people are constantly hungry, receiving a food parcel is something that can’t be described—it has to be experienced.
David opened the parcel. As he looked up, he saw the old priest looking at his bread with longing eyes. David broke off a piece and gave it to him. To his amazement the priest took the bread, broke it, and gave it to his two tormentors. “My friend,” said David, “you are hungry. Why did you not eat the bread yourself?” “Let me be, brother,” he answered. “They need it more than I. Soon I will go home to my Lord. Don’t be angry with me.” Soon after that he died. But never again in this cell did David hear mockery and blasphemy for those tormentors recognized this priest as a child of God. Someone once said that God has really given men five gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and CHRISTIANS like you and me. Isn’t that a convicting thought?
People come to know Jesus through the Bible and also through His children. How good are you doing when it comes to that? I mean, how much do you resemble God these days?