Matchless. Incomparable. Unparalleled. Simply the best ever. All of those descriptions could be applied accurately to what we commonly call “The Sermon on the Mount,” that marvelous teaching of the Christ which is found in Matthew chapters 5-7.
What amazing instructions it provides for those who long to please the Lord God.
Modern-day humanistic psychologists and therapists have their own “take” on how to persuade people to do certain things. Long before our present era, Jesus showed that He was the Master in the matter of speaking to the heart of humans to persuade them to make appropriate decisions. In that beloved “Sermon on the Mount,” we see a variety of ways that Jesus used to appeal to people’s sense of doing what is right. How did Jesus try to motivate those who heard Him teach?
Jesus used the concept of “reward” to get to people’s heart. As He spoke about those who would suffer for righteousness’ sake, His message was, “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven . . .” (Matthew 5:12). He again mentioned “reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1). As we shall see, the notion of receiving a personal reward from God is not the only approach that our Lord used as He reached out to people, but, it would be false to conclude that longing for a God-given reward is self-centered and sinful. Jesus endorsed using reward as motivation.
Jesus also appealed to people’s desire to avoid going to hell. He told His audience that it was better to cut off or cast out a body part if it causes one to sin. Why? Because, in Jesus’ words, “. . . it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell” (Matthew 5:29,30). The message was clear: if you want to stay out of hell, then learn to practice self- control.
A third approach of the Christ was to call on people to show proper love. Jesus said that men ought to love their enemies and show love to people who did not return such love to them (Matthew 5:44,46). Humans may not always have a proper concept of what true love is, but having a sense of love is common to all people. Jesus appealed to the high standard of love to motivate people.
As Jesus spoke about love, He made people know that they could (and should) be like God. He appealed to them to “be sons of your Father in heaven” and, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:45,48). The suggestion was not that Jesus’ disciples could become God, but rather they could imitate Him. That is an effective approach when people highly respect God’s flawless nature.
Humans naturally despise the hypocrisy which they see in people. When the Master taught about giving alms, prayer, and fasting, part of His message basically was, “You do not want to be like the hypocrites, do you?” Jesus said not to give alms “as the hypocrites do,” do not pray “like the hypocrites,” and “do not be like the hypocrites” when you fast (Matthew 6:2,5,16). It was an appeal to avoid putting one’s self into a disrespected category of conduct.
In addition, the Christ also used what we might call a “bottom-line” appeal. There are only two options available – life and destruction, and Jesus calls on us to choose between those two. We have the freedom to make our own choice, but whatever that choice is, it will have eternal consequences. Jesus said that many travel the way which leads to destruction, while few are on the way that leads to life. His exhortation for all people is, “Enter by the narrow gate” (Matthew 7:13).
None of us wants to think of him/herself as a dummy or unwise in our life dealings. Our Lord said that if one hears His sayings and does them, then he is like a wise man who builds his house on the rock. On the other hand, if one hears Jesus’ sayings but does not do them, he is like a foolish man (Matthew 7:24-27). In these words, Jesus appealed to people with the thought, “You do want to be wise, don’t you?”
These are seven ways that Jesus used in trying to motivate people to make the right choices: reward, hell, love, being like God, not being a hypocrite, the bottom line, and being wise. Let us learn to imitate Jesus and apply His methods as we reach out to others.
— Roger D. Campbell