Jesus' Masterclass on Character Development

Jesus' Masterclass on Character Development
Photo by Keagan Henman / Unsplash

The world held its breath under the spell of his presence.

I sensed the hush of the crowds enveloping me like a warm cloak as I nestled among them like a pebble smoothed by the tide. Every rustle, every sigh, seemed amplified in the pregnant silence as we awaited the next brushstroke on the canvas of his words.

I like to imagine myself sitting at the feet of Jesus when I read his words in my Bible.

Many of Jesus’ teachings have been broken up into smaller scenes and dialogues, making it difficult for many modern readers to digest the breadth of wisdom in Jesus’ words at once.

But not the Sermon on the Mount.

This collection of teachings captures a moment many, like me, dream of having: what it would have been like to sit down and hear one of Jesus’ teachings from beginning to end.

If Jesus held a TED Talk or recorded a Masterclass on Character Development, he would say the words found in the Sermon on the Mount.

Everyone benefits when Christians get better, and Jesus gives us a map of how to live a life that aligns with his principles. A map that makes us better by developing our character.

Here are five key lessons from the Sermon on the Mount that offer insights into character development.

Settle debts and disagreements fast before things get out of your control.

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” ~Matthew 6:12

Forgiving other’s debts is fundamentally unfair. We don’t like unfair things. We are taught (and we teach others) from a young age to “play fair.”

It’s a good theory, but we quickly learn that life is unfair in the real world. Devastating tornadoes and scorching wildfires are unfair. Worldwide pandemics and corrupt politicians are unfair. People born with more opportunities or with a disability are unfair.

All those things are out of your control, yet we spend most of our concern on these things. Jesus makes it personal.

Focus less on the things you cannot control and more on the forgiveness standing right before you.

Keep your thoughts pure. Eliminate the temptation of sexual thoughts toward others.

[…] anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. - Matthew 5:28

I can’t always control what turns up in my thoughts.

Feelings, pictures, and words flash up without prior notice. These thoughts can be good or bad, positive or negative, constructive or destructive.

If we are in Christ, God is remaking our minds.

The purifying of our minds happens, in part, as we learn to habitually set our minds in certain directions—as we turn our mind’s eye from the worthless to the beautiful, from the defiled to the pure, from the false to the true.

In the book of Philippians, God tells us to consistently set our minds in three directions: on glory abovebeauty below, and people around.

Respect marriage. Messy marriages lead to messy situations.

[…] anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery - Matthew 5:32

Some statistics say up to 50% of marriages won’t last. That’s not how God designed marriage.

In your marriage, if the grass looks greener somewhere else, it's time to water your own yard.

God doesn't just want you to die for the ones you love; he wants you to live for them too—every day. Because when we stop fighting for the most important union we experience as humans, things get messy—in our homes, work, and minds.

Here is some quick, try-it-today advice:

  • When you think something nice, say it.
  • When you think something special, do it.
  • When you want something different, be it.

Always tell the truth, and do not make promises you cannot keep.

Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil. - Matthew 5:37

Truth moves us closer to God’s created order; truth is often difficult to hear and forces our preferences to be wrapped around reality.

Finding truth is a different ballgame. You may not find it all the time.

But you can always seek to tell the truth, which is tightly connected to the promises we give others. If you feel busy, overwhelmed, or scattered-brained, you don’t have to promise to meet someone for lunch this week.

  • Say ‘yes’ only if your mind says ‘absolutely yes.’
  • Say ‘no’ if you mind says ‘maybe I could make that work,’ or ‘I guess.‘

Be a peacemaker with your opponents, and do more than is expected of you.

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. - Matthew 5:44

There are people who don’t know Jesus who are watching you and making assumptions about what Jesus is like. People close to you will form their opinions of Jesus based on what you do and say.

For better or worse.

Love is such a complicated word that we have lost its true meaning.

I will give some words to help embody what loving our enemy might look like.

  • Listen to your enemies' concerns and fears because you will realize they have many of your concerns.
  • Practice empathy by putting yourself in their shoes. Let that person become human and not just a target for your attacks.
  • Find common ground with people, despite how difficult it might be. It’s easy to find faults, but it’s right to find common ground to build on over time.
  • Forgive people who have hurt or offended you. There is an incredible amount of unforgiveness in our cancel culture. Be different.
  • Pursue unity as a peacemaker, even for those who vote differently, love differently, live differently, and view the world differently.

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The Sermon on the Mount is a collection of some of Jesus’ most famous teachings. These principles have stood the test of time and have influenced societies for thousands of years.

I have listed out a few that God is teaching me right now.

I’m curious about what he is teaching you.

If you want to go on a year-long study of the Sermon on the Mount, I recommend all the content being produced by Bible Project.