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Kurt Vonnegut, famously included this bit of bathroom graffiti in his novel, Deadeye Dick:

To be is to do – Socrates

To do is to be – Sartre

Do Be Do Be Do – Sinatra

Apart from Sinatra, I’m not sure Vonnegut got the philosophers right, but no matter. 

Here’s the question: “If you had to pick one of these as a motto to live by, which would it be?” 

Matthew's Paradigm

This series is exploring aspects of Matthew’s Gospel as a paradigm for making disciples.

In this post we will touch on the first “panel” (Matthew 1-7) which deals with the Disciples’ (inner) Character.

For more details on Matthew’s paradigm, click here to download your FREE copy of the book Listening Well to Matthew.  

The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is the first of the major discourses, or teaching sections, of Matthew.

Some say this teaches what is required to become a citizen of the kingdom. In other words, what we need to “do” in order to “be.” This is not what Jesus is teaching in his Sermon.

The Sermon on the Mount (SM) is focused on the inner character of the disciples of Jesus Christ. Jesus is teaching his disciples (those that already “be”) what their essential character is.

Let’s look a little more at Sartre's maxim, “to do is to be.” 

“To do is to be”

This saying encapsulates much of our human insistence on self-determination. It has certain merits at one level, but is fundamentally flawed.

For instance, if a person wants to “be” a medical doctor, that person must successfully “do” a course of studies that leads to the knowledge and skill of a physician.

Yet, this approach is fundamentally flawed when it comes to changing a person’s nature. Religion, and other institutions, try but always fail.

We can read about this human inability to change our nature in 2 Peter 2:17-22. Peter concludes his remarks with a couple of colorful proverbs to make his point. One of these is:

A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.

To give the pig a good wash and a dash of perfume will not change the fact that it is, by nature, still a pig (no offence intended).

To do is not to be.

Near the end of the SM, Jesus tells us that (7:22-23):

Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’

Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

These people said the right things, and even did miraculous things, and yet Jesus says to them, “I never knew you.” He then identifies their nature as “evildoers.”

Again, to do is not to be – even when a person is “doing” miraculous things

“To be is to do”

Whether Socrates said this, or someone else – that person was on to something.

The SM, begins with a series of beatitudes, or blessings. For example (Matthew 5:3):

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

This is a blessing, not a requirement or condition. Jesus is not telling us to “do” being poor in the spirit; he is blessing those who “be” poor in the spirit.

In his commentary on the SM, Charles Quarles, correctly observes that this is about “the character and conduct of those whom God has already claimed as His children.”

At the heart of the SM is the “Lord’s prayer” (5:9-13). How does it begin?

          “Our Father …”

Excuse my grammar, but the disciples who pray this already “be” His children

What God has done

Our need is for a change of nature so we can “be” children of God. That change is an act of God through faith in Jesus Christ (e.g., Romans 3:21-26; John 1:12). That’s what makes us “be” children of God.

Once we “be” children of God, then we “do” children of God 'stuff'.

Jesus speaks in this way as he draws the SM to a close:

Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit (7:17).

In other words, what we “be” by nature determines what we “do” as a way of life. “Doing” flows from “being” children of God. 

“To be” or “to do”

How do we discern between those who simply “do” and those who “be”?

One clue Jesus gives is: “by their fruit you will recognized them” (7:16). What the person is “doing” (fruit) indicates the nature of the tree. Yet, there are those “doing” miraculous things and they are, by nature, “evildoers.”

It seems that “doing” miraculous things is not the evidence of “being” a child of God

What Jesus is revealing in the SM is the character of his disciples. That character is the character of Jesus Christ. Yes, that may involve the miraculous on occasion, but at its core, it is a character that is becoming more and more like Jesus Christ.

Ultimately, “to be is to do.”

If you “be” a child of God by faith in Jesus Christ – a follower of Jesus, a disciple of Christ – then you will live out that life God has given you – the life of his Son, Jesus Christ.

This growing discovery of “being” is the essence of making disciples who, by nature, “do” by joining Jesus in His mission to redeem His world.

Does that answer the question?

Contact me by clicking here to let me know what you’re thinking.

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Photo credit: Compilation attributed to Roi-Shuhami at

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