In 1978 John Stott published a commentary on the Sermon on the Mount entitled Christian Counter-Culture. It’s a testimony to the insight of Stott’s exegesis and, more importantly, to the power of Matthew 5-7 that thirty-seven years later, this is still a counter-cultural document.
Stott had a gift for making complicated things simple. Here he takes not only the Sermon itself, but also a multitude of various interpretative traditions and distills them into neatly numbered lists.
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.
—John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1978).