The “ethics of the kingdom” are found in the Sermon on the Mount (a title coined by Saint Augustine of Hippo) in Matthew 5-7. The Sermon is a manual that disciples are called to follow as they tread the pilgrim’s path in this world.
How do the commands of Jesus apply to apologetics and witness? Among the Beatitudes that introduce the Sermon the one that applies to the defense of the faith most imnmediately is “Blessed are the peacemakers.” All of the beatitudes apply to every disciple including the call to be peacemakers. The Greek word for peacemakers in our text is found only here in the New Testament.
Disciples are to be peacemakers. The body of the Sermon tells us more about how we are to conduct ourselves as peacemakers. After the beatitudes Jesus explains with metaphors who the disciple is. The disciple is the one who is salt and light. “You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5: 14a ESV) and “. . . let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5: 16 ESV) As light we provide witness to and defense of the faith in peace as Jesus calls us to do.
The emphasis in the Sermon is how a disciple is commanded to act. In what are called the antitheses, “You have heard that it was said to those of old” . . . “But I say to you . . .” (Matthew 5: 21-22 ESV), Jesus broadens the meaning of the commands against murder and adultery. One commits murder when angry with a brother or sister. One commits adultery when looking improperly at a woman. Jesus doesn’t make the commandments easier to follow but harder.
The disciple is not to retaliate against one who is evil. Instead, “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5: 39 ESV) This non-retaliation is characteristic of disciples. The disciple engaged in a defense of the faith should stand firm in his witness, but never use violence. He is to be a peacemaker.
Jesus teaches, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”(Matthew 5: 43-45a ESV) The enemy is not easy to love, yet we are called to do it. In the beatitudes Jesus says that the persecuted disciple is blessed by God. The disciple may be persecuted but does not persecute anyone, even the enemy. The disciple is a peacemaker.
Anger, violence, and hatred have no place in our defense of the faith and our witness. We fail at times to follow the Lord in these matters. But, God’s “property is always to have mercy.” (Book of Common Prayer, 1928, Prayer of Humble Access) God in Christ shows mercy to us when we fail. Out of His mercy we are to be faithful to Him. We are to be peacemakers.
A strong emphasis in the Gospel of Matthew is the command to do the will of the Father. Others are to see our good works so that they may glorify God. (Matthew 5:16 ESV) Later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7: 21 ESV) The disciple responds, “Thy will be done.” Thy will be done by me and through me. In Matthew 12: 50 in response to the man who told Him that His family was waiting to speak with Him, Jesus says, ” . . . whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, sister, and mother.” (ESV) His will is that we are to be peacemakers.
We apologists and witnesses have clear guidelines from the Gospel on how to conduct ourselves in conversations with those who do not believe. The central thing here is to do the will of the Father, who before anything we do according to His will, has shown His mercy to us. His will in part is that we are to be peacemakers.
Michael G. Tavella
November 4, 2019