"The followers of Jesus are to different," writes John Stott, "different from both the nominal church and the secular world, different from both the religious and the irreligious. The Sermon on the Mount is the most complete delineation anywhere in the New Testament of the Christian counter-culture. Here is a Christian value-system, ethical standard, religious devotion, attitude to money, ambition, lifestyle and network of relationships--all of which are totally at variance with those in the non-Christian world. And this Christian counter-culture is the life of the kingdom of God, a fully human life indeed but lived out under the divine rule."In this careful exposition of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, John R. W. Stott accurately expounds the biblical text and relates it to life today. Above all, the author says, he wants to let Christ speak this sermon again, this time to the modern world.
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Stott had a gift
There are elements of his interpretation that I would disagree with. For example, on Matthew 6:5-6 Jesus exhorts his followers to pray in private, not like the hypocrites who love to be seen in public. Stott notes that there was nothing inherently wrong with praying on street corners and synagogues "if their motive was to break down segregated religion and bring their recognition of God out of the holy places into the secular life of every day" (133). In the first place, isn't the Synagogue a holy place? More importantly, this statement presumes (anachronistically) that first century Jewish people divided their life into religious and secular spheres—a trademark problem of the Enlightenment.
Yet for every passage that makes me shake my head, there are twenty more that reveal the sort of understanding only a committed follower of Jesus can demonstrate.
In the introduction, Stott wrote:
"Of course commentaries by the hundred have been written on the Sermon on the Mount. I have been able to study about twenty-five of them, and my debt to the commentators will be apparent to the reader. Indeed my text is sprinkled with quotations from them, for I think we should value tradition more highly than we often do, and sit more humbly at the feet of the masters" (9).
John R. W. Stott is now one of the masters he wrote about in 1978. I always benefit from sitting humbly at his feet.