Sunday, March 8, 2015

Pitfalls to Avoid Along the Path to Eternal Life

Pitfalls to Avoid Along the Path to Eternal Life©

Introduction: I teach Gospel Doctrine in Sunday School in our ward. Today’s lesson was part two on the Sermon on the Mount and concentrated on Mt. 6 and 7. It struck me that of all sermons, this one teaches the fullest and truest “Living Philosophy” so a discussion of it is not only welcome here, but virtually mandated because of its preeminent position in the philosophies of the world.

Many people see the Sermon on the Mount as a collection of wise sayings and illustrations, but do not perceive a unified message in the Sermon. There are, however, actually a number of ways students of the Sermon have come up with that show some unity to the message. We Latter-day Saints have the benefit of two additional versions of this sermon, one in the Book of Mormon, the other in the JST. A partial version is also in Luke 6:17-26.  I believe the fact that the sermon or parts of it are included three times in our scriptures shows that Jesus may have given it on several occasion.  These other versions which have many variations from the KJV in Matthew give us important new information on background and context, doctrines, explanations, and clarifications.  The background found in the first few verses in 3 Ne. 12 and in JST Mt. 5:2-3 show that this sermon was directed towards those who had faith to believe the message of the Apostles and other missionaries and to be baptized–in other words members of the Church.

Latter-day Saints, therefore see some unifying themes, threads, and principles that are not generally apparent to scholars using just the KJV. Among all of those, four stand out to me.  First, this sermon teaches people who have been “born again” through the ordinances of baptism and reception of the Holy Ghost how to “grow up” spiritually and become like Christ. In that sense it teaches us the pathway to salvation, exaltation, and eventual glorification. Second, it is evident from six examples found in Mt. 5:21-47 that Jesus is introducing the “higher law” of the Gospel or what Paul referred to as the “law of Christ.” (Gal. 6:2)  Third, as we learn from the wonderful work of Jack Welch, law professor at BYU, the Sermon on the Mount is a temple sermon. That is, it teaches about temple doctrines and practices and prepares people for the temple and to make and keep temple covenants which will lead to exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom. 

Lastly, and here I want to dwell a moment, there is a thread of warning that runs from the beginning to the end of this Sermon. Jesus warns his followers about potential dangers, one person called them "pitfalls" which disciples will encounter and must meet and overcome in their journey through life. Avoiding or conquering these obstacles is the true measure of spiritual growth and development. I encountered this idea on Nancy Jensen’s blog called “The Cutest Blog.” On 22 February she uploaded her outline for this lesson and in the second half she discusses five pitfalls to avoid. I liked the idea, but felt it could be expanded. I spent a couple of hours this morning before class re-reading the Sermon and extracting the alerts which Jesus gives of potential pitfalls. I thought readers of this blog may find the list interesting and thought provoking. I welcome your reactions, thoughts, and questions.

From the Sermon on the Mount – Mt. 5-7

1. Being an ineffective (inactive?) member.
Mt. 5:13-20. Salt that has lost its savor, light hidden under a bushel, teaching by word or example to break the "least" of God’s commandments. I find it interesting that one of the first things the Lord addresses after people have become members of his Church is to warn against becoming an ineffective member; and certainly inactive members are ineffective. Too many fail to continue on the path of spiritual maturity, or to “grow up” in the Lord.
2. Living a lesser law.
Mt. 5:21-47.  Six examples where the “higher law” is given by reaffirming and deepening the old law or correcting an erroneous tradition.
3. Wrong motives.
Mt. 6:1-8, 16-18.  Giving alms, praying, and fasting incorrectly with the wrong purpose and with the wrong motive–to be seen of men and receive their praise rather than to please God.
4. Being unforgiving.
Mt. 6:14-15.  We cannot be forgiven if we will not forgive.
5. Placing our heart on temporary things; taking our eye off the goal.
Mt. 6:19-23.  Place your heart on those treasures that may be laid up in heaven.  Keep your eye single to the glory of God. (JST Mt. 6:22, see footnote 22b; also D&C 88:67, this one is also in a temple context.)
6. Trying to worship two masters.
Mt. 6:24.  You cannot worship both God and mammon. Isn’t it interesting that this teaching follows the direction to keep our eye single.
7. Faithless worrying and wrong priorities.  (To the Twelve)
Mt. 6:25-34 (JST Mt. 6:38).  Do not worry about clothing and food.  Seek not the things of this world, but seek ye first to build up the kingdom of God and to establish his righteousness. See JST Mt 6:38 in footnote 33a.
8. Unrighteous judging.
Mt. 7:1-5.  You shall be judged in the same manner as you judge others. Get the beam out of your own eye so you can see others clearly.
9. Irreverence toward and misuse of truly sacred things.
Mt. 7:6.  Do not give that which is holy to the dogs or set your pearls before swine. Spiritually mature individuals have a heightened sense of and an appreciation and reverence for the sacred and holy.
10. Not finding (missing) the strait gate and narrow way.
Mt. 7:13-14.  Few find it. The gate is baptism; the way includes the other ordinances of the temple and all of these principles of the higher law–the law of the Gospel, or the law of Christ.
11. Misled by false messengers.
Mt. 7:15-20.  Beware of false prophets; by their fruits ye shall know them.
12. Confusing lip-service with discipleship
Mt. 7:21-23.  There is an important difference between saying and doing.  Compare the parable of the two sons in Mt. 21:28-32. Covenants obligate us to use our knowledge so that we are not guilty of lip-service only.
13. Building your life on the wrong doctrinal and moral foundation.  
Mt. 7:24-27.  Live according to the “law of the Gospel,” the higher law as taught in this sermon and you shall be able to properly weather the storms of life.
Let’s think together again, soon.

No comments:

Post a Comment