A Prayer of Jesus I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.
Listen to him! (Mark 9:7)Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.Jesus, Matthew 7:13-14
His Way is hard and narrow. No reasonable person seeks it as the goal of life. The other way, the way of the world, can be marvelously easy and multitudes travel it in style. It is much, much more attractive provided we refrain from considering its destination. But what sensible person chooses a way as an end? Only a tourist; but along the pathway of life we do not have the luxury of traveling for the sake of sightseeing because there is no going back. Every day takes us another days journey along the way, in one direction or another, and we cannot retrace a single step of it. A prudent person will therefore choose his or her way in life based on the destination, not the pleasantries of the journey. The destination, not the journey, should be our prime concern.
The Two Ways and the Only WayThere are only two ways to go – the easy and the hard. Jesus has shown the significance of each. He, who was from the beginning invested with glorious eternal life, displayed his great love for us by condescending to experience the hard way. He jeopardized his status as Son of God to guide us to a proper destination. He is the living personification of the Way, and it is as such that he said:I am the way (John 14:6).Anyone who would follow Jesus to the Glory of the Father must traverse this world by the Way of Christ. His way is the hard way but God is its destination. It is the only way to that destination. Remember his word:No one comes to the Father but by me (John 14:6).He was not optimistic about the numbers who would be influenced by him. He said that those who would follow are few, while many would traverse the broad and easy way. This is true, although the easy way leads to death and destruction, and the hard one to eternal life with the Father in heaven. Seeing it thusly puts the matter in a new perspective. Jesus does not urge us to make a selfless commitment to the service of God and others. Instead, he makes his appeal to our highest self-interest. A temporary inconvenience to the self is nothing when compared with the glorious destination.
A Look at Self InterestChristendom has misinterpreted self-interest. This error must be addressed before we can understand the True Way of life. I am about to make some statements that may be offensive to you because of the influence of this type of "Christendom thinking." Please do not turn away. If you continue, you should realize that we have all been mislead.
Jesus condensed all the commandments of the Mosaic code to only two: the first, the command to love God; and the second, to love neighbor. Now focus on the second and examine it in some detail. How are we to love our neighbor? Listen:. . . you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:32).Do you see the clear implication? One must measure the love of neighbor against the love of self. If one does not begin by loving oneself, there is no basis, in this commandment, for loving one's neighbor. So, Jesus accepted self love as a given entity, a base from which to reach out in love to others. He repeatedly displayed this acceptance by his assurances of a rewarding destiny for those who follow the hard Way. It is the way that leads to life for oneself, which is motive enough for following it. He knew that every person wishes for himself or herself the blessing of life and all good things that pertain to life. An inherent life-wish motivates us at the deepest level and it is to that most fundamental of motivations that Jesus makes his appeal. Consider his instruction on treasure:Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, were neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matthew 6:19-21).He seems at first to be prohibiting the accumulation of treasure but then we see that is not so. To the contrary, he urges upon us the accumulation, for ourselves, of the true treasure that cannot be consumed or stolen. It is the most secure and precious treasure imaginable, which is in heaven. So he is definitely not saying, "Do not lay up treasure for yourselves." Instead, he is instructing us to be discretionary in our choice of treasures. He would have us seek only the true treasure, rich above any earthly evaluation and absolutely secure! Go, then, for the gold!
He continued this theme through the Sermon on the Mount, where he instructs us not to be anxious about our lives – about what we shall eat or drink, nor about clothing – what we shall put on (Matthew 6:25,31). Again, he did not base this prohibition on lack of concern for ones self. It is only that he would have us put first things first. He wants us also to inhabit Glory, and he wants this with the same fervor with which he wants it for himself. Thus he loved his neighbor as himself by coming to earth for us. Yet he never failed to maintain his self interest. He never failed to want and to will one thing above all others for himself: that he might return to the Father. At the earliest possible moment, as soon as he had finished his work in the world by the sowing of the word, he turned to the Father in prayer saying:And now, Father, I am coming to you (John 17:13).Yes! Jesus was eager to return to the Father because it was in his highest self interest. It was also necessary that he show the way for us to follow by manifestly hating his life in this world. So it is that he is the supreme example of loving one's neighbor as oneself.
. . . now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory which I had with you before the world was made (John 17:5).
Now consider the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). Here Jesus presents a person who, in his willfulness, once thought it was in his interest that he claim his inheritance and go out into the world. This he did, only to lose everything. He finally "came to himself." Then, from the dregs of his miserable existence as a swineherd he resolved, "I will return to my Father's house and seek to become one of his hired servants, for they have bread enough and to spare, while here I perish with hunger." Thus it was by a resolve born of prudent self interest that the young man found escape from his folly. Jesus recommends him to us as an example to follow if we are to escape the relative swineherd conditions of this life and enter the Father's house in glory.
Self LoveHe has not commanded us to love our neighbor instead of ourselves. He has not commanded us to love our neighbor more than ourselves. No, the command is plain and simple:Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31).He did not command these things, I suspect, for the simplest of reasons: they are impossible. That is, it is impossible to love your neighbor more than yourself, and it is impossible to love your neighbor instead of yourself. Therefore Jesus did not concern himself with these two impossible applications of love. He concerned himself only with what is possible – that we may love our neighbors less than we love ourselves, or that we may love them not at all while loving only ourselves, or that we may love them selectively. These are the possibilities that he abhors, the possibilities that exalt the self above others, including God the Father. He commands the one other possibility as the only acceptable characteristic of the Way that leads to the Father – that we love our neighbors exactly as we love ourselves, and that we love them thus indiscriminately. I do not mean only that we are not to discriminate racially, culturally, or socially. Jesus intends us to go beyond all that. He selected as the object of love all who can be included in the word "neighbor." That means absolutely everyone within the sphere of our experience. To illustrate the radical extremity of this inclusiveness, he gave another much more specific commandment in the Sermon on the Mount:Love your enemies (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27, 35).How is this possible? Is not this a contradiction – to love oneself, and to love the hostile enemy who is intent on doing harm to that very self? Christendom has struggled vainly with this question because Christians have not correctly defined genuine self-interest. Lack of progress is evident in that the so-called Christian nations are as adept as any others at hating and destroying their enemies. They will never progress while they define self interest in terms of temporal considerations, contradicting the Word of Christ, as they seem destined to do.
The highest self-interest, the only true and genuine self-interest, begins with the acceptance of an eternal set of values. When one has established such values, consistent with the doctrine of Christ, the command to love one's enemies and all similar injunctions become not only reasonable and practicable, but the essence of ones being.
To illustrate, let us yet again visit our familiar friend, the Prodigal Son, as described in the parable of Jesus:There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, "Father, give me the share of property that falls to me." And he divided his living between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, "How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.'" And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son." But the father said to his servants, "Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found" (Luke 15:11-32).The Prodigal was impatient to get out into the world and to the business of living. This impatience suggests that his values were of a temporal nature. Now, the father in this Parable is the Father in Heaven, where all the values are eternal ones. Yet he did not coerce the will of the Prodigal, but granted all his wishes. He watched, sadly no doubt, as the Prodigal strutted proudly out into the world. There he proceeded to make a life for himself, but it was not such as he had envisioned. He soon found himself forced to dwell in very unsatisfactory circumstances. Then he became wise and looked back to his father's house, to the eternal and eternally secure treasures he had left behind, and realized simultaneously what a fool he had been. It was also at this point that he learned to hate his life in the world. Surveying his circumstances, he suddenly saw no hope, no future, and nothing of value or in any way satisfying to his inner self. Suddenly, life in his father's house appeared glorious. He yearned for it from the depths of his heart. Yet he lacked any claim on it, having forsaken it for the life of the world. Then, in the depths of his despair, a happy thought struck him: I will return and cast myself on Father's mercy. Perhaps he will permit me to become a hired servant, for they have everything they need. Of course it happened – but see how it happened! The Father did not accept him until he had learned to hate his life in the far country (world), and until he realized what was truly in his best interest. Few are as wise as this Prodigal. He could have continued to plan and scheme and try, again and again, to find satisfaction in the world. This is exactly what most people are doing and have always done. He hated it instead, and on that basis he returned to his Father, who received him with great rejoicing. He radically revised his values, which freed him to aspire to lasting treasures.
Now, let us augment the parable a little. Suppose that while working as a swineherd, the Prodigal encountered an enemy intent on displacing him from his job. Had the Prodigal maintained his earlier commitment to temporal values, he would have responded with hostility. After the radical reversal of his values, he would have found that such an enemy was no threat to him. So, he would have responded without resistance, free to love even this hostile opponent because he no longer valued what the enemy sought. Having deserted the pigsty and found acceptance in his father's house, he would have reached out with compassion to his enemy.
Now, consider the example of Jesus, how he could love his enemies. You will find that it was for the reason presented in the prior discussion of the Prodigal. He did not value what the enemy sought -- not even his very life. Therefore those who would be his enemies were absolutely no threat. Since he loves all his neighbors as himself, including his enemies, he can, in the act of suffering death at their hands, plead with the Father for them:Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).And what does he want for them – for them all? Nothing less than what he wants for himself – a place in the Father's house! It was to realize that very want that he came and suffered so much for us.
The Foundation of the Way of ChristIn summary, the foundation of the Way of Christ includes the acceptance of self and self love, equal love for ones neighbors, and the eternal treasures as the exclusive value set. This all begins with becoming a child of the Father and learning to hate the life in this world, exactly as the Prodigal hated his life in the pigsty, and as Jesus hated his life in Israel. There can be no valid considerations of Christ like conduct by anyone who has not resolved these primary matters of self acceptance and self love. The same applies to anyone who has not resolved the contradictory temporal and eternal values by renouncing the former and adopting the latter.
The First LoveThis is not all. There is one other matter even more important than these that revolves around, not the second, but the First and Great Commandment:You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your strength, and with all your soul (Mark 12:30).This love is much more than you might imagine. Religious rituals can never satisfy it. To realize the depths of its meaning, look again at the Prodigal Son: he wanted one thing exclusively – deliverance from his miserable life in this world (the pigsty) through restoration to his Father's house. He wanted to be close to the Father, in fellowship with the Father, serving the Father. The moment he came to that radical resolve, that very moment, he renewed his love for the Father. For that is the significance of genuine love. It is the desire to reach out and unite with its object, as the small magnet attaches to the larger steel bar and clings to it tenaciously. When this yearning for God possesses the mind, the heart, the soul, and the body, expelling all contrary desires -- then it is that one has obeyed the First and Great Commandment.
You see, then, how the love of God is contrary to the love of life in this world. One cannot simultaneously retain that life . . . and go also, like the Prodigal Son, to be with the Father. You should now realize also how this love imposes a radical effect upon the conduct of the followers of Christ. Without it, there is no possibility of doing the will of God in any circumstance. There is nothing to be gained by attempting to do so, seeing that it is this love that is the will of God.
These, then, are the things that must be realized before there can be any profitable consideration of the Way of Christ:Now we can go on to the investigation of some particular commandments that Jesus gave to guide our conduct in the Way.
- (1) The love of the Father, with one's whole being;
- (2) The love of ones self, that reaches out to all;
- (3) The radical rejection of the temporal treasures for the eternal ones, consistent with the very highest love of the self.
THE LAWPauline antinomianism is anathema to Jesus. Jesus' rendering of the First and Second commandments as the summation of the Law and the Prophets should set this matter to rest – yet he did not stop with that. He went on to address the matter more specifically in the following utterance:Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:17-20).Let us first acknowledge that he is addressing a condition that must prevail until "heaven and earth pass away." It is therefore a permanent condition. It continues to this day, totally untouched by later events, including the crucifixion and apostolic interpretations of Jesus and his work. Jesus must have stated this repeatedly to counter the later doctrines of the church about his person and work. Luke's rendition of such a saying is as follows:But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one dot of the law to become void (Luke 16:17).These statements leave absolutely no room for the end of the dispensation of law while the universe remains. Therefore the Law and the Prophets remain in force to this day.
Consider next how it is that, for Jesus, the Law is the basis of the righteousness of the Kingdom. Only by adherence to the law does one's righteousness come to exceed that of the Pharisees and Scribes. Yes, it is very simple: one enters the kingdom, if one does so, solely by a righteousness that is the result of keeping the Law. Jesus then proceeds, in the Sermon on the Mount (from now on called herein simply "The Sermon") to present six antithesis in which he modifies the law as delivered through the Old Testament. He first said that whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:19). Then he proceeded to take certain key legal precepts of the Mosaic code and do the very opposite: to make them much more stringent. He knew beforehand that there would be many who would not only seek to relax the law, but even to do away with it entirely. This is the tendency in Evangelical Christianity. Therefore he did the opposite by giving six specific illustrations (antitheses) of the nature of the modifications. In these, he deliberately rendered the law more rigorous. His warning to those who would relax the law applies especially to his modifications.
The first antithesis is:You have heard that it was said to the men of old, "You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment." But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, "You fool!" shall be liable to the hell of fire (Matthew 5:21,22).The second antithesis is:You have heard that it was said, "You shall not commit adultery." But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell (Matthew 5:27-29).The third antithesis is:It was also said, "Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce." But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery (Matthew 5:31,32).The fourth antithesis is:Again you have heard that it was said to the men of old, "You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn." But I say to you, "Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No' Anything more than this comes from evil" (Matthew 5:33-37).The fifth antithesis is:You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you (Matthew 5:38-42).The sixth and last antithesis is: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; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the gentiles do the same?There is a seventh "- thesis", which is not an antithesis, but a synthesis:You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:43-48).Jesus listed these six antitheses and one synthesis in detail so that you can see immediately how it is that he made the law much more demanding. It is so demanding that most people have despaired of ever keeping it. Churchmen have developed various theories to preserve a place for our lack of compliance with the law, while explaining why Jesus made it so rigid. There are a few exceptions (Tolstoy, for example), but nearly all have concluded that the law of Christ is totally impractical. (See Clarence Bowman, "The Sermon on the Mount – The Modern Quest for its Meaning") They view it as impossible to apply to life in this world. One writer advances the idea that Jesus gave us these commandments to drive us to despair. Then we might forsake all efforts to become righteous and rely wholly on the grace of God. Another proposes an "Interim Ethic." This was valid only for the early disciples during the brief period that they suppose Jesus expected before the transformation of the world. Then, so it goes, the transformation did not occur, so the commandments can have no further validity. Yet others see them as defining the perfection that is our goal, while we continue to fail and rely on the grace of God for forgiveness. Then there are those who think Jesus' commandments are the law of the Kingdom that, so they go on to say, has not yet come. Therefore his commandments are not authoritative for this age.
Men designed all these ideas to relieve us of obedience to the law as expressed in the words of Jesus. It was precisely to counter these evasions that Jesus closed the Sermon with these words:Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it (Matthew 7:24-27).That serious and learned men can read such words yet continue to excuse themselves, and us, from taking them seriously has always amazed me. I realize now that their positions are logical developments of their mistaken ideas of the reality with which we have to deal. For one thing, the belief that Jesus concerns himself with the maintenance of the world has possessed them. From this they understand how his commandments do not make sense for the world at large. Why, if a whole nation responded to its enemies by loving them, they would quickly overcome it and evil would triumph!
They are right in this one thing: Jesus does not expect or intend that the world at large apply his commandments to the affairs of this life. He knows that the world is going to continue without any consideration of the application of his teaching to world affairs. But he does expect his followers, the relative few who are not of this world, to take him seriously and to apply his commandments now.
The Key to True DiscipleshipHow is this possible? What distinguishes the follower from anyone else such that one can take Jesus seriously whereas the other cannot? The answer to this question is the very thing that I have all along been explaining: the hatred of life. When seen in the exercise of the hatred of life and its parallel commitment to Eternity, the commandments of Jesus lose their problematical character and become the normal response to every circumstance. It is only in the application of this principle that they become sensible. Also, Jesus never expected anyone to take him seriously apart from the hatred of life. Those who do are the only persons who are acceptable children of God, and the only ones who have any hope of eternal life in glory. Let me remind you of his clear words again:He who loves his life loses it; but he who hates his life in this world will keep it for life eternal (John 12:25).Now examine the above antitheses while keeping this utterance in mind, and you will see what I mean. In the first, he stiffens the command, "Thou shalt not kill." by the modification, "Thou shalt not be angry." It is easy to relate hatred of life to the original version. Suppose you are a policeman who answers a call to investigate someone seen carrying a pistol. You arrive, see the person with gun in hand, and do your duty. Drawing your weapon, you call out to the suspect to drop his. Instead of dropping it, he raises it in your direction. How are you to respond? If you do not shoot first, you may be killed – and you have only an instant for decision. You shoot. Why? Because you love your life. This compels you to protect it, which here means killing someone else. You have then transgressed the commandment that forbids killing, and the reason is plain – you love your life.
Your response would surely be different if you hated your life. Then, your life or death is not a primary concern. Of course, if you truly commit yourself to the hatred of life, as taught and exemplified by Jesus, you would not likely be in this situation. But assuming you were, you can see how your attitude to life would dictate your actions.
Now what of the prohibition of anger? Jesus applied this to the attitude to a brother, for the Jews had always considered the prohibition of killing to apply only to a brother. They have never had compunctions against killing their enemies, any more so than any other tribe. Therefore, so as not to confuse the issue at this point in the Sermon, he applied the prohibition of anger specifically to a brother. To see the relevance of the hatred of life, we must first ask, what are the usual causes of anger?
We list a few: oral and physical abuse, lies, disrespect, theft and destruction of property – these are adequate for my immediate purpose. All are causes of anger only because we perceive them to threaten something of value to this life – for example, our bodies, our possessions, our reputations, and those we love. But, if these things have lost their value because we have replaced them with heavenly treasure, threats to them will no more stimulate anger!
In the second antithesis, Jesus stiffens the prohibition of the act of adultery by the prohibition of the very thought of adultery. This is consistent with the doctrine, "as a man thinks in his heart, so is he." So to lust after a woman is not, in the assessment of guilt, to be distinguished from the very act. Now, why does a person commit adultery? Is it not because he or she has a commitment to this life – to a kind of enjoyment that it affords, if only he or she will bend social conventions? A person who truly hates life in this world will therefore not yield to temptations to commit actions harmful to others for the sake of sexual pleasure. One who has truly settled the matter will not even entertain the thought.
In the third antithesis, Jesus took the Mosaic code regulating marital fidelity, which provided for divorce, and stiffened it by the elimination of this provision. Jesus does not acknowledge divorce under any condition. The people of the world pay him no attention of course, but go on providing for divorce as always. In the churches, they assiduously seek interpretative schemes that continue to provide some basis for divorce.
Why? The explanation is precisely the same as for the first two antithesis. A person who loves life in this world easily reaches the conclusion that a spouse is no longer satisfactory. There are multifarious reasons, but the love of life fuels them all. Therefore, a spouse who seems not to be enriching this life as expected must be discarded for someone who will bring more enjoyment to the temporal experience. The enjoyment of this life takes precedence over any marriage commitment.
The response is entirely different whenever one who has learned to hate life in this world experiences marital difficulty. Such people always consider that their commitments take priority over temporary inconveniences. (And all temporal inconveniences are temporary.) They are not greatly upset when the marriage road becomes bumpy because they understand that there is no enduring fulfillment in this life in any case. Therefore, they can gracefully accept such trials and live with them indefinitely. More importantly, when a person values this life and its contents above other things, that person may feel justified in doing anything that offers the prospect of making life happier. If this means divorce, so be it! But when one values the eternal treasures and hates this life, one is free to accept whatever life brings. There is no compulsion to do things that may bring unhappiness to others or that would be a failure to keep commitments. Such a person is free to endure suffering in the expectation of an eternal reward that is more than compensatory. Then one can continue to be happy and to love a poor spouse since such a spouse poses no threat to one's true values. The result can be the cheerful endurance of a poor marriage in which one preserves self respect and the hope of eternal glory. Everything depends, you see, upon acquiring and maintaining the hatred of life in this world taught and exemplified by Jesus.
The fourth antithesis is the one in which Jesus absolutely forbids the taking of oaths under all circumstances. "Let what you say be simply Yes or No," he said, and then added that anything more than this comes from evil. The practice of administering oaths, common in the world and especially in courts of law, is therefore evil.
Why do people continue to render such oaths? Because they do not question the practice, and because they are afraid of the consequences of refusal, for the authorities have not always taken such refusal lightly. The history of punitive action has produced a practice so intimately woven into the fabric of civilization that people accept it without question. But when a person hates life in this world, the punitive consequences of refusal are not a primary consideration. The hatred frees one from the conformity that the love of life would compel.
And why do the authorities compel the oath? Surely it is to establish the basis for the penalty of perjury should one lie, and so to increase the probability of hearing the truth.
It is a very effective system for people who love their lives in the world, who would fear the consequences, of lying, on the quality of life. By the same reasoning, it would not be in the least effective with people who have learned to hate their lives. They would not fear the punitive consequence of perjury.
The key question is "Why do people lie?" They lie because they hope to gain by it, or because telling the truth would cost too much in terms of things dear to them. Now, if you examine these costs and gains, you will discover that people deem them such because of the love of life and the temporal value system. Such motivations do not exist for one who has learned to hate life in this world.
To use an extreme example, suppose you must testify against someone charged with serious crimes. The court will either convict or release this person because of your testimony, and the truth will convict. Suppose also that this person has a very mean and violent brother. The brother communicates to you this threat: "If you testify truthfully and they convict my brother, I will kill you!" You know he surely means it. What are you to do? Most people, committed to the love of life, will not long debate before lying to save their lives.
But Jesus said, "Whoever would save his life, will lose it." If, therefore, you have learned to hate your life in imitation of Jesus, you will not save it. You are free to tell the truth despite consequences. Then you require absolutely no oath to produce the truth, nor consequence of perjury to prevent your lying. You are free. The constraints that compel the people of the world to lie and deceive do not bind you. Since to save your life is to lose it, you know that you have nothing to gain by lying and everything to lose. The motives for lying have left you and you are free, utterly free, to tell the truth. How can you ever submit to the oath, which your Lord has forbidden and has labeled "evil?" If you do submit, you are accepting the implication that, apart from the oath, you might be expected to lie. You are accepting the implication that you fear the penalty of perjury and therefore that you love your life in this world. These implications utterly destroy any witness you might make about the life we have in Christ Jesus, who leaves us here for this very purpose! How, then, can you ever submit to the oath? Anyone who has learned to hate life in this world has lost the motivation to lie – but such a person always has the motive to tell the truth.
It is a matter of maintaining integrity – the integrity of one's person and the integrity of one's witness. Again, it is a matter of values, in which one values one's integrity above one's life. Such a person is absolutely free. No one can compel the free person to do anything contrary to his or her will. In divorce, the integrity of one's commitment was the final determinant; so also with the oath. It is again the integrity of one's word that is the final determinant. Personal integrity is therefore at the heart of the Christ commitment, because the person is the one entity that continues into eternity. It is therefore the one eternal treasure that we possess today, if we are careful to maintain it.
The person we permit ourselves to become, in this world, is the person who must face the judgment bar of the world to come where no truth is hidden and no oath is required. The children of God will tell the truth and nothing can move them from it. The children of God will not submit to the oath and nothing can move them to it. They know the truth, they speak the truth and the truth has made them free.
The fifth antithesis contains the commandment, "Do not resist one who is evil." This is a particular application of the sixth and last general antithesis: "Love your enemies." he application of the principle of the hatred of life to these two is obvious. About non-resistance, Jesus explains:But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.Each case illustrates a threat to life or to one of life's treasures. One can never deal with them as commanded by Jesus, on the grounds of non-resistance, unless one first deals with the attitude to life. While you love life and cherish its values, you are compelled to resist the threat. Forsake that love, and there is no threat from such attacks. The result is the possibility, nay, the inevitability of non-resistance to the evil one.
Coming to the sixth and last antithesis, we see that this is the key to the realization of love for that same enemy. The one thing that is crucial, which alone enables us to take these commandments of Jesus seriously, is the "conversion" by which the love of life turns to hatred. Then arises a new value system centered in the eternal verities beyond the common disposables of time and of life in this world. The old treasures, doomed to pass away anyway, consisting of material and bodily security, relationships and alliances and ultimately life itself no longer possess us. Threats to them no longer inspire us to resistance. Also, the enemy is helpless to threaten the new and eternal treasures so he no longer poses a threat. He continues to value the temporal life and its securities. The only way he knows, or can know, to inflict harm is by attacking others at the same level. It is only when he attacks the followers of Jesus that he meets no resistance. He discovers instead that he has fallen into the arms of their redemptive love. Yes, not only is non-resistance possible, but one goes even further in response to the Second Commandment, and reaches out to the enemy in love – genuine, warm, and authentic love. Love goes beyond mere non-resistance to inspire a positive attitude to the enemy. This results in actions toward him that are such as you would have him do unto you. Jesus sums up this positive response to the enemy, which is the sixth antithesis, in the following words from Luke:But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you (Luke 6:27,28).Mere non-resistance might be motivated by any number of reasons: fear, weakness, cowardliness or simple prudence as in the Gandhian model. The enemy will always assume that non-resistance comes from one of these reasons because these are the only ones he understands. He will respond to it with contempt and even more abuse . . . unless it is accompanied by the positive, love inspired service. This means that love does more than the enemy would compel one to do. Therefore Jesus illustrated the appropriate response of love with the commandment:If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles (Matthew 5:41).One does such things because one loves the enemy, and one loves the enemy because he does not threaten, and he does not threaten because ones valuables are secure, and one's valuables are secure only when they are in heaven. You see, your response to such circumstances will be consistent with your self-interest. Only by placing self-interest in the eternal context can any rational person love one's enemy in this world. Then it becomes not only possible, but probable, as you extend your love for yourself to your neighbor consistent with the Second Commandment.
I must emphasize repeatedly that a proper perspective on the self is crucial to the response of Christ to the enemy. The unsolved problem of interpreters who have dealt with the Sermon has been the question, "How can one do justice to the self and also take Jesus seriously?" Now we have the answer to that question. Always, Jesus places the self in a key, central position as he seeks to motivate his followers in every place and age. This is nowhere more evident than his conclusion to these antithesis, where the reward motive continues to be accepted and presented as the basis of acting in this way:For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same (Matthew 5:46)?Luke's rendition is even more explicitly focused on self-interest:If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the Selfish (Luke 6:32-35).So you see how it is that Jesus always addresses us on the assumption of the reward motive . . . of the desire for "credit."
Now, the ultimate reward is a place in the Father's house, as a child of the Father, but Jesus posits this childhood on conformity. That is, those who would be children of God must become like him in essential ways, especially in that quality of character called "mercy." Since, therefore, the Father deals with his enemies in a certain way, we must deal with them similarly. Then we become as he is. Coming to the seventh " - thesis", we become a synthesis with him!You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).Jesus illustrated this teaching with the following words:...for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:45).In the dispensation of his blessings, the Father makes absolutely no distinctions between his children and his enemies. All receive the sun, all receive the rain. I can even go further to say that when any of these blessings are withheld, all suffer alike, both the just and the unjust. Even drought, earthquake, tornado, and volcano make no distinction between the evil and the good!
Since the Father acts thus without discrimination, we, too, mustBe merciful, even as your Father in heaven is merciful (Luke 6:36).So, in the loving of your enemies, you are only acting according to the divine nature that is in you. You do it for a reward, the kind of reward that the Father values.
A Reward in Kind?Those popular preachers who seek to motivate others by appealing to the desire for of a reward in kind, such as, for example, promising material rewards to those who tithe, are speaking contrary to the Word and the Spirit of Christ. That they do it in his name renders theirs the grossest of sins. They are only catering to the love of life – and to the temporal value system, which to Jesus is anathema. Jesus continued the sermon with instructions on piety; specifically, he issued guidelines for the giving of alms, prayer, and fasting. In all three cases his dominant concern has to do with motive. There are also two other common elements: his appeal to the reward motive that I have already discussed at length, and the command to secrecy.
He concluded the instruction on almsgiving with these words:...and your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:4).He concluded the instruction on prayer with these words:...and your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:6).He concluded the instruction on fasting with the same:...and your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:18).So you can see that always he makes his appeal to the need in each of us to receive rewards. Specifically, he urges on us the desire for and expectation of the rewards that only the Father can mete.
The Implications of Public PietyNow, in reviewing the context of these words in the Sermon, you doubtless have noticed that he does not accept the desire in us for a reward when we are looking to men as its donors, and when we are seeking it here in this life. He began this series of instructions with these words:Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 6:1).Everything, you see, hinges on your motives. When you give alms or do other pious acts publicly to impress men favorably, something is happening that is terribly wrong in the sight of the Father. He will never reward you for such acts.
Do you remember Jesus' response to Peter's objection to his first prediction of his sufferings?You are not on the side of God, but of men (Matthew 16:23; Mark 8:33).Or do you recall what he said to the Pharisees?You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts; for what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God (Luke 16:15).The nature of things is such that the Father is on one side, men on the other. The Father abhors what men adore! If this is true, as Jesus said, then what can be the Father's opinion of those who, like the religious Pharisees, seek to justify themselves before men? To use Jesus' own words again, they are an abomination!
About himself, Jesus said,I receive not glory from men (John 5:41).For his part, then, he solicited absolutely no plaudits from the category labeled "men." He also uttered harsh words against those who seek to elicit the praise of men, especially in the disposition of their religious duties. His typical comment on them is:They have their reward (Matthew 6:2 , 5, 16).This means, of course, that those who seek the praise of men for their reward can expect no reward from the Father, either here or hereafter. This basic enmity between men and God explains why Jesus expressed such strong concerns about the motives of our piety. Jesus instructed the disciples to keep their pious acts secret because the consequence of impure motives is so terrible, and the temptation to seek the approval of men is so strong. Listen:But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:3,4).Does this mean that the Father would have us never to do any of these things other than secretly? What about the offering of prayer during public worship? Surely that is not forbidden? Or what about the saying of "Grace" at the family table? If you will simply review his words, and take him seriously, I need say no more to answer your question. We can think of all the reasons in the world why Jesus could not have meant what he said. Yet there it is, in black and white (or in any other color your New Testament may contain). Always, the word is "secret." Secret, that is, to all but the Father, who sees "in secret," and therefore will reward you openly in his eternity.
But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:6).
But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:17, 18).
Those who do such things are obviously transgressing the will of God as enunciated by Jesus. Does this, then, give us grounds for pronouncing condemnation on those who practice such things contrary to the instructions of the Lord? No, absolutely not. We cannot rightly judge what is in the hearts of other people, and they are under condemnation only when their motives are impure – that is, when they do it to impress their neighbors.
The Lord has made his will unmistakable, as usual: Do it, but do it secretly! Pray in your secret room. Give alms so your left hand does not know what your right hand is doing. Let your appearance when fasting be as though you do not fast. Then all will be in secret, and only you and your Lord will know of your devotion. These are his commandments, who also said,If you love me, keep my commandments (John 14:15).and,He it is who loves me, who keeps my commandments (John 17:21).Some pious acts are so patently designed to influence others that I have much difficulty in not expressing a very poor opinion about those who do them. This includes those who:1. Say Grace at table in public restaurants.What of Jesus? Did he abide by his dictum? Did he do these things in secret?
2. Claim their private communication line with God during ordinary conversation: "The Lord told me . . . ." or "I told the Lord."
3. Post religious signs in their private businesses, on auto bumpers, or other public places.
4. Publicly credit God for giving them special blessings as rewards for personal piety, which also gives them public credit for being so pious. For example, a successful businessman may say, "The Lord has blessed me because I have always paid a tithe."
On giving alms: there is no record that he publicly shelled out of his pocket to help the poor. If he did it, he did it in secret. There were many poor persons in Israel who needed help. He did help them in a variety of ways, including feeding them miraculously and healing their diseases, but I know of no case where he paid out of his pocket to provide for their needs. He had plenty of resources, for when money was an object, he could readily supply it. Witness his instructions to one disciple to go catch a fish and remove the tax money from its mouth!
As for fasting, clearly he fasted during the wilderness experience of forty days, following which Satan tempted him (Matthew 4:1, 2; Mark 1:13, Luke 4:1, 2). He was there alone, in secret, and it was under these circumstances that he fasted in a manner perfectly consistent with his later teachings. I know of no other incident where he fasted, either publicly or not, so that any such practice must have been very secret. The record does say the disciples of Jesus were unique in that they did not practice fasting, although Jesus said they would do so after he left them (Matthew 9:15; Mark 2:20; Luke 5:36).
Jesus was a man of frequent prayer and there are many places in the record where he addressed the Father. His practice was in good accord with his instructions to the disciples. Mark tells us, for example, that " . . . in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed" (Mark 1:35). Matthew tells us of another, similar event:And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up into the hills by himself to pray (Matthew 14:23).Even in Gethsemane, where he battled furiously with the temptation to save his life, he placed himself apart to pray: "And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed . . .."
The only exception is in John's Gospel, where the language suggests that the disciples were in his presence when he uttered the "High Priestly" prayer of John 17. In view of the powerful Truths contained in this prayer, it is likely that his motive was to make these words known to us through the disciples. He permitted at least one of them to hear him for this purpose. Had he gone completely out of earshot, we could never have understood the provisions that he made for us.
You may think that I have deliberately omitted the "Lord's Prayer" (Matthew 6:7-8; 9-13; Luke 11:2-4), which he gave as a model to his disciples, unless I include it somewhere here. This is not an exception to his rules, because he was not praying. He was only giving his followers some words to use whenever they should pray.
You have doubtless noticed that the "Lord's Prayer" is very short. This is consistent with his instructions as follows:And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him (Matthew 6:7, 8).You see, it is like this: since the Father already knows everything about you, including absolutely all your needs, he doesn't need to hear your prayer to know what you need or wish to say to him. It is you who need the prayer, so that your dependence upon the Father may be realized more fully within yourself. Therefore a brief prayer is all that is necessary. If you prefer to use florid phrases and to extend your petitions endlessly, and especially if you are doing it publicly, something is terribly amiss in your heart. Of course, many in the congregation may go home saying, "Brother prays such wonderful prayers! How very close to the Father he must be!" You will have accomplished your real purpose, and you have your reward.
The Root of the MatterNow lets go to the root of the matter: what is the basic malady infecting those who love to show their piety, or who love to "wear their religion on their sleeves?" It is the same as the root of every other evil: such people are guilty of loving their lives in this world. Being thus in love with life, they seek ways of enriching it.
Anything, therefore, that elicits the praise of others and that is motivated to that end adds to the luster of life and thus comes from evil. Anything, absolutely anything, we may do to enhance our status among men springs from the love of life, which is the sole cause of condemnation. In all such cases, we have our reward. Our reward only, not our punishment; that comes later. It is the love of life that compels us to reach out for rewards of every sort. It is the love of life that prevents our being obedient to the commandments of the Lord in every case.
If you are trying to reconcile the Sermon and its "hard sayings" with your outlook while you remain a captive to the love of life, you may as well forget it. It is a futile endeavor. But when you have learned to hate your life, consistent with the example and precept of Jesus, you will find that everything falls into place. It is the failure to realize this connection that has frustrated every effort of those ecclesiastics who would interpret the Sermon on the Mount.
Everyone who loves life will find it impossible to take the Sermon seriously. Everyone who hates life after the manner of Jesus will find it simple both to understand and to apply. The problem comes in making the transition from a lover to a hater. It is not easy, and Jesus always made the difficulty of it a prominent part of his message. He expressed it in the Sermon as follows:Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Matthew 7:13, 14).A major part of the difficulty lies in the absolute cleavage that Jesus made between the two positions. That is, it is not possible to love both the temporal and the eternal life. Neither is it possible to make a slow and gradual transition from the one attitude to the other. Whoever loves this life, in any degree, will find that he has not qualified for life eternal. Whoever truly loves the life eternal, will find that he hates life in this world. One cannot love both a little. It is the nature of things. It is because of this feature that Jesus emphasized purity of heart and singleness of the eye. It was in the Sermon that he said:Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matthew 6:19-21).This passage has already received an extensive discussion, and I present it here to show Jesus' emphasis on the exclusiveness of the two positions. Where your treasure is, he said, there will your heart be also. Now the only way to maintain purity of heart is to have it all in one place, so that this saying underscores the beatitude:Blessed are the pure in heart (Matthew 5:8).He then proceeded, in the Sermon, to make the same point about the eye:The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is single, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness (Matthew 6:22, 23)!The eye must focus upon a single object to be single, or sound. Jesus pressed this truth upon us yet again with his words on serving two masters:No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13).So it is never both/and. Always it is either/or!
The Cure For AnxietyJesus has told us that the Way is hard; that is certainly true. Yet the way of this world also can be very hard, and people often endure its hardness without realizing that it does nothing good for us, either here or hereafter. Anxiety is one form of the hardness of the world, but one who has effectively realized and applied the hatred of life is free of this experience. Jesus also spoke of this in the Sermon, and I include a portion of this utterance here:Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on . . ..Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, "What shall we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or "What shall we wear?" For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day (Matthew 6:31-34).How is it that Jesus can command no anxiety? This seems not at all practical, to us who have spent a great amount of time and energy on worry. The answer to this question is precisely the same as that of the the prior similar questions: he does it because he expects us first to deal with the love of life. While we remain in love with life in this world, there is no possibility that we will get beyond anxiety.
Only a little reflection will reveal the enabling power of a changed disposition. Once you have truly come to hate your life in the world, the causes of anxiety disappear, for anxiety is born of the love of life. We must keep in mind that the anxiety of which Jesus speaks looks to tomorrow, not to today. He is careful to assure us that the Father knows that we need these bare essentials, and that he will surely provide them according to our faith. Meanwhile, let today's troubles be sufficient for today (Matthew 6:34)!
He assures us that the Father will provide the essentials if we first comply with the condition of seeking His Kingdom and His Righteousness (Matthew 6:33). Now, we will find both the Kingdom and the Righteousness only through the hatred of life so that the methodology becomes clear. When anyone seeks the Kingdom, that person finds it only through the conversion from the love of life to the hatred of life as exemplified by Jesus. Simultaneously, the new attitude to life relieves one, at the deepest level, of anxiety while the faith that empowers the new attitude trusts the Father to supply all our needs.
Remember, his question is, "Why are you anxious about your life?" So, it is clear why your attitude to life determines your response. It is also important to recognize that Jesus does not counsel a careless and indifferent attitude concerning these provisions. If you are this day in want, hungry and thirsty and naked, you are in trouble and you should deal with it. You will even experience anxiety about your immediate circumstances and Jesus has not forbidden such. All he has forbidden is anxiety about tomorrow. This leaves us free to deal with today's trouble without complicating it with worries about the future provided we have faith to trust the Father to provide tomorrow's needs. When we do find ourselves in need of today's essentials, yesterday's faith may have been lacking, and that is a situation that calls for attention.
Another thing one must recognize is that Jesus is not commanding that we make no efforts to provide for ourselves. Even the birds, which he set before us as examples (Matthew 6:26), must get out and scratch for their worms! Also, if it were possible to obtain all one needs by doing nothing other than to trust God, lazy people would rush to take advantage. Jesus would be contradicting himself, having taught that the Way is hard while making it easy! The hardness of the Way demands that we at least scratch for our worms like everyone else. The only honorable means of obtaining them is the same for us as for others: that labor that makes a contribution to the needs of our neighbors. The nature of things is such that there can be no earthly advantage to becoming a follower of Jesus. The force of temptation must not be reversed to induce the lazy, the parasitical, the unproductive and the irresponsible into the Kingdom for no good reason.
Implications of Judging OthersThose who commit themselves to the Way are under instructions from the Lord to be very careful about their attitudes toward others. The words of Jesus mediate his Spirit, and the ingesting of his words, those utterances from the Father, cannot fail to define the Spirit with which one approaches one's fellows. The temptation always is to be super critical of others while being super lenient with ourselves. This is a tendency that Jesus attacked most vigorously:Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, "Let me take the speck out of your eye," when there is a log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye (Matthew 7:3-5; Luke 6:41, 42).In this utterance, the key word is "first." "Take first the log out of your own eye." Thus, those who follow Jesus in the Way give primary consideration to their own character. They will be much more conscious of their failings than of their neighbors failings. This specifically includes those neighbors who would do, or have done, them harm. Luke's Gospel expands this principle as follows:Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back (Luke 6:37, 38).Here we face instructions about how to respond to our enemies, and what spirit to manifest to them. We all know how easy it is to pass judgment on those we simply dislike. How much more difficult it is to be charitable in our attitudes to those who actively seek our harm! But those who walk in the Way have this simple instruction: forgive and give. Again, how is this possible? As before, the answer is to be found in the acquisition of that hatred of life that Jesus has set before us. The love of life compels us to respond with harsh judgment to those who mistreat us. But when we see that their mistreatment of us harms them more than us, and that it does not touch the things we truly treasure, that is, the eternal treasures, the way opens for us to forgive. By that same means we realize our justification and promote our highest self interest, forWith what judgment you judge, shall you be judged (Mark 4:24; Luke 6:37).The love of life causes us to be tempted to be lenient with ourselves and harsh with others. Jesus understood the dangers of this tendency, which results in disastrous self deception, and he knew that the Fellowship of the Way would not be immune to it. The result is that multitudes will stand before him on the Last Day in the confident, but mistaken, expectation that the Lord will approve them. A few will be standing fearfully to one side, in constant awareness of their tragic failures, who will hear instead those wonderful words of acceptance from on High:Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world . . . (Matthew 25:34).
Hearing and DoingThose who love their lives are compelled by their misapplied self-interest to justify themselves, but those who follow Jesus in the hatred of life wait in the hope of being justified by him. The Gospel of John reveals a Jesus who was intensely concerned with his Words, whether they would be heard in the world, and with the consequences of either hearing or not hearing them. The synoptics go one step further in emphasizing not only the hearing, but also the doing of what we hear. This emphasis is especially prominent in the Sermon, which closes with the Parable of the Builders. Here, He showed that salvation and justification depend not only upon the hearing, but upon acting on what we hear. The parable begins in this manner:Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock: and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it (Matthew 7:24-27; Luke 6:48).Luke's Gospel records the following rebuke:Why do you call me "Lord, Lord," and not do what tell you (Luke 6:46)?These are among the plainest words in all the Bible. Jesus stated them very precisely to prevent any effort to make them mean less than the obvious. My earliest frustration in the church grew out of fruitless efforts to bend these words to conform to the doctrine of justification by grace alone. I could never do it, because it simply cannot be done. Churchmen who promote this doctrine therefore never seriously apply them to life. I found it necessary to leave the church, partly for this reason. I always felt alienated from a ministry that encouraged people to build their houses on sand, and I still do. Now, though, I can understand the failure of the churches. They fail to serve God because they have refused to deal with the change in attitude to life that Jesus has set before us. And then they betray him with a kiss!
"Lord, what must I do (Matthew 19:16; Mark 10:17; Luke 10:25; 18:18)?" This is the question put to Jesus by a young man disturbed by the complexity of determining right conduct in a world of many shades of gray. The Gospel of the Kingdom is wonderful good news to such persons. It disperses the fog of ecclesiastical obfuscation and enlightens a Way clearly defined, such that anyone who will can understand how to walk in this world. Only those who have faced and resolved the fundamental conflict of the will, as applied to life, can have the insight required to guide their conduct with confidence and hope.
One critical feature is the realization of the new set of values of the Kingdom. Obviously, one's values are highly determinative of conduct such that the doing of the Father's will remains an impossibility while we continue to treasure temporal life, possessions, and relationships. But those who give proper attention to the maintenance of the attitude to life counseled by Jesus will respond to God's will as commanded by our Lord. Jesus does not guide us into a new legalism that would bind us to the letter of the law. Far from it! He has given commandments, which he expects that we will obey but the obedience comes naturally when we have put on Christ with his hatred of life. Then his commandments become, not rigorous codes but firm guides, either affirming our faithfulness in the Way or firmly rebuking us when we stray.
He has liberated us from the heavy burden of legalistic righteousness, on the one hand, and the equally burdensome task of ferreting out the way through the maze of grays by pure faith, on the other hand, to stand approved of God solely because of the wills disposition to seek consummation in eternal glory. I do not mean that questions of conduct never trouble us; only that when we find ourselves so troubled, the difficulty is simple (but seldom easy) to resolve. We need only reinforce the right disposition of the will-to-life through abiding in the word of Christ. The sometimes seeming complexity of decisions about conduct never results from the character of the choices, which are in Truth clearly drawn. It is the result of confusion within ourselves. It signals that we have weakened in our resolve and have listened to the spirit that is of this world.
Permit me to illustrate: A young man lives in a country that is at war and in danger of being destroyed. He has received notification that he must report for service in the army. Should he, a lover of peace, respond? He is not afraid, but he loves his enemies in imitation of Christ and would do them no harm. On the other hand, his friends and kin may be greatly harmed by the enemy if he and other young men do not rush to the bastions of defense. Looking thus outwardly at the issue he becomes confused and uncertain. If he looks inwardly instead, to reinforce the heart's devotion to the Eternal Glory, he sees again that the only treasure is in heaven and that there is nothing in this world but losses. Then it is that he is free to respond to that word of our Lord:Do not fear him who can destroy the body but afterwards has nothing that he can do (Matthew 10:28).This statement of Truth clarifies the issue and he responds to his summons in the Spirit of Christ without concern for earthly consequences. He sees that it is a far greater service to his fellows to be thus a witness to Truth than to save their lives by the sword. Therefore, we do not need a "Christian Torah." We do not need a voluminous exegesis of scripture such as the preachers give, neither one of their "concise analyses of the issues." We do not need a host of counselors, because we have our "wonderful counselor" always with us. We do not need this book! We need only confront the dichotomy that knows no compromise and make our commitment to Eternity, not to time. Then, and only then, can we resolve the previously perplexing questions regarding conduct in this present age. We need only be aware of the Logos, the utterances of Jesus.
The world has many books purporting to give guidance in the will of God. We are writing more of them every day, including this one. Most of the writers know nothing of the way. They only confuse us, be they evangelists, missionaries, theologians, learned doctors, or anyone else. Those books that do not focus on the simple, though hard, utterances of Jesus are at best no more than sophisticated rubbish. Only the words of Jesus abide forever. I am not saying that it is easy to do God's will – only that it is easy to discern his will in the light of the Word. Of course this makes the doing easier, for how is a person to do the will of God if he cannot discern it? Still, the hardness remains, but the Way, though hard, is plainly marked. Jesus blazed a trail through the world so well defined that no follower need go astray for lack of guidance. The new attitude to life that issues from the commitment to Eternity clarifies all questions of behavior. What once seemed an impossible question has suddenly a simple answer, once the pure light of Truth disperses the fog of earthly mindedness.
The Single EyeThe two eyes in our heads are generally so well coordinated that they move always in unison and focus upon the same scene. Otherwise, the single mind would be thrown into confusion by the constant input of disparate images. So it is as Jesus said,If your eye is single, your whole body shall be full of light (Matthew 6:22; Luke 11:34).Sadly, people seldom profit from this object lesson built right into our heads. The tendency, instead, is to observe two vastly different scenes, the heavenly and the earthly, and to aspire to both. The result is a cross-eyed heart! Therefore, we can never correctly resolve questions of conduct apart from the prior attention to, and correction of, this malady of double vision. It moves us always to strive after the impossible – to focus the eyes of the heart simultaneously on both spiritual and material aspirations. Jesus makes this unmistakable by his terse remark about serving God and mammon. Why do people not heed him? Ah! The things of this world are so evident, so immediate!
What is the final significance of this refusal of an exclusive commitment? The word is this, a word without equivocation:No man can serve two masters; he will hate the one and love the other . . . (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13).The God haters pass by everyday on their way to get gain, totally in the service of mammon, and often under the inspiration of a morning devotional, betraying him with a kiss!
Jesus compels us to face the issue squarely with his categorical demand:Except a man forsake all that he has, he cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:33).One must forsake all! Only this is adequate testimony to singleness of heart. If I withhold the smallest pittance – yea, one so small that it is worthless to anyone else – perhaps the memento of some precious event, a token of sentiment, one limited solely to sentimental value – if I hold back even so small a thing as that, can I be free of double mindedness?
Nay – the last thing of this world to which I cling is in reality my most valued possession. It would be as though I were saying to the Father, "You may have everything else, but not this. No, not even for you will I forsake this!" Then I might console myself with a thought that is consistent with the appearance of the thing: that it is, after all, very small; surely God will not notice. In a manner of speaking, this would be true. He might not regard the pittance, but we may be very sure that he would notice my devotion to it – how I valued a pittance above him!
Behold the poor widow of the Gospels. They testify of her that she cast in only just such a pittance – two pennies, such worthless things (Mark 12:42; Luke 21:2)! But Jesus, and God her Father, noticed, because they were of great value to her, being all she had, even her whole living. In addition, she was a widow with no one to care for her! Perhaps they had some sentimental value. Her precious husband had earned them by hard labor in his old age and had denied himself, so that she might have something for her living following his departure. Now he has departed and the two pennies are all that remain of his legacy. How he loved her, and how she in turn valued his love and efforts for her! Although she bore him no children to comfort his old age, still he did everything for her! Now he is gone – and so is his legacy, all save these two small coins that he earned with his tired hands. But . . . the priests (Ah, the priests!) have convinced her that God's work goes begging; that God needs her two pennies more than she needs them. She, innocent and believing, pure of heart and out of her total love of the Father casts in her all – yes, even her last two precious coins, her whole living! Ultimate devotion! Here is surely the perfect example of purity of heart that issues from genuine commitment to Eternity. (But as for the priests, well, that is another matter.)
So what is her reward? Does she receive public acclaim? Does she get a front page write up in the Jerusalem Post? Do friends call a meeting in her honor and praise her generosity? Do they praise her for her exemplary devotion? Does she go on to discover that, on that very day, her meager wealth was restored a thousand times over by another, totally unexpected bequest?
Absolutely not. What she gave was so small and insignificant that no one other than Jesus took notice. Or, if someone did, it was only to ridicule her: "Look how that foolish old woman has parted with her last penny!" No one took notice, that is, save Jesus. And what did he do? Did he go to her as God's representative and commend her devotion before all the world? Did he call her forward before all his followers and praise her? Did he, perhaps secretly, replenish her supply? No, he did no such thing. She never heard what he said about her. She heard only the derision of those who despised her devotion. Most probably she wandered thence out into the streets of Old Jerusalem to join the ranks of the old beggar women, then soon sickened and died. What Jesus said of her he spoke quietly, from a distance, to only a few disciples, being careful not even to record her name.
"Do you see," he said, "that woman?"
Therefore she remains as nameless in the world as she was penniless. This is only as she wished, for in her singleness of mind and heart she did not give to receive the plaudits of men. Such a reward would only have brought sorrow to her. She would know that for some reason, perhaps the taint of double mindedness, God had not accepted her gift. She was making a shrewd investment in her Eternity, not in her time. She does have a reward – that of having friends in heaven that she has made by means of the unrighteous mammon. And Jesus' commendation, made to others at a distance, in time – that she at length hears also – In Eternity.
The Solitary IndividualNow, while we are looking at this nameless woman (from a distance), let us not fail to observe a thing that is characteristic of such persons. I mean that she was the only one of the givers who gave in singleness of heart and so she cast in more than all the others. This suggests that the call comes to each of us as individuals and that each individually makes whatever response he chooses. In this matter of commitment to Eternity there is no team effort, no group decisions, no commitment by committee. Each, as an individual standing alone in this world and before God, makes his or her solitary decision. If it is a true commitment to Eternity, each becomes, like that poor widow, a solitary individual in this world with little or no corporate support, for:The way that leads to life is hard, and few there be that find it (Matthew 7:14).So it was that Jesus came to Simon Peter as to the solitary individual; not to all the twelve at once but to one only, in private. He came to that one person in particular who was called "Simon," and to that particular Simon who was also called "Son of Jonah," and said to him only,Simon, Son of Jonah, do you love me more than these (John 21:15)?And Simon wept bitterly, so bitterly, in great grief due to his double mindedness! O, what a terrible grief it is – to be the solitary individual in the consciousness of God, and. . . one's double mindedness!
Jesus typically addressed himself to the solitary one. He said not, "If you all . . .," but instead,If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Matthew 16:24; Luke 9:23).It was as a solitary individual that Jesus himself confirmed his commitment to Eternity – first in the wilderness, later in the Garden, and finally on the cross. There is then absolutely no true comfort to be gained from a corporate relationship for by itself it does nothing but deceive us. Yet throughout Christendom the multitudes, in ignorance of Truth, continue vainly to seek and to claim innocence by association. Typical is the position of a veteran of the Korean War who disclaimed any moral accountability for the blood he had shed. He said to me, "I only did what others compelled me to do. I acted only as an instrument of the state. It was not my wish to kill anyone. They gave me no choice in the matter, wherefore I am not responsible."
So it was that he would depersonalize himself. He is only an instrument, he lacks choice. Not so! When one solitary individual encounters another on the field of battle, each set to destroy the other, whether he acknowledges the truth makes no difference before God. Each is solely responsible for being there and armed in the first instance, and for acting as he does in the second. It is as the solitary individual that he makes his decision to press the trigger and to plunge the bayonet, and as such he bears accountability to God. His commitment is to time, not Eternity.
No one has to do such things. Every individual can and does decide for himself or herself whether to go to war. It is the individual who makes the decision, and when one decides not to go, then he does so as a solitary individual. This can be, and often is, a good decision motivated by single mindedness but even this is not always evidence of a firm commitment to Eternity. Often it signifies only a foolhardy commitment to relative temporal aspirations such as world peace – a love and vision not for Eternity, but for the world. The implications of double mindedness, with an accurate definition of the singleness which one acquires through the commitment to eternity, has already been thoroughly discussed and recorded by a brother of the past century. It is therefore neither needful not appropriate to continue the discussion here. I refer you to him for further discourse (S. Kierkegaard, "Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing"). The point here is that such singleness is essential to acquisition of the behavior of a true follower. Without it, there is no profit in considering the matter. Godly conduct is incomprehensible to the double minded, but is natural to those who, by the commitment, have acquired both singleness of mind and purity of heart.
The Way is hard. Yet it does not follow that it is hard from every perspective. For one whose eye is truly single it is the easiest thing imaginable, like giving candy to a child. It is as when one acts fully in accord with one's true nature, with the Spirit that is within, so that the result is peace and contentment. Yet it is hard, and it is a hardness that knows no equal. It is the hardness of attaining and constantly maintaining this pure quality of singleness while under the constant bombardment of worldly influences. These seek to infect the heart with compromise – with the delusion that "there is no harm in it." Therein is the hard struggle – with one's old, crucified self, with the tearful pleas of the erring loved ones, with the wider world of humanity, with Satan himself and the host of his demons, which all conspire to enslave the soul. Yet in Christ, in his Way, it is not only possible, it is inevitable!
Having discussed many aspects of the Way of Christ, let us now focus our attention upon that solitary individual who walks in the way. Why does this person display such unique and peculiar behavior? How are we to account for the eccentricity?
First, it is a matter of value set, as previously discussed. Here, one's treasure is in heaven, distinct from that of the multitudes of this world. This is not a matter of relative evaluation, for such a one has learned to value only the heavenly. Things temporal and earthly concern such a person only as losses.
Second, that person who has made the total commitment to Eternity finds himself or herself in a blessed state in this world that one could not have imagined beforehand: nothing threatens! Such a one is wonderfully relieved of the fears and anxieties that attend life in the world. One is not afraid of thief, tyrant, famine, pestilence, or anything else in the whole creation. Above all, gone is the fear of death.
Death, although a strait gate, becomes a blessed event to which one looks in eager anticipation in its appointed hour. There is a sadness in it, to be sure, but mixed with joy like that of a bride who, though joyful and happy, yet sheds tears when she embraces her parents, sisters, and brothers. She has lived with them all her lifetime, but she can live with them no more. Yet the joy is so overpowering that one is able quickly to put away the tears and rush ebulliently into the embrace of Eternity.
The case is also like that of a student (we are called "disciples") who strains forward to a graduation that must await its time and the final examination. When at length it comes, it is a time of great joy for all. Yet again, there is a sadness in it that is fit and proper. It is the sadness that comes of separation from beloved and familiar friends. It is as when the graduates march across the stage to receive the diplomas, with joy and gladness in their hearts yet with . . . tears in their eyes. Such sweet, mixed emotions! Yet again, it is with such a person in the Way as with that same bride, who later comes to bear her first child into the world. As there is a barrier of pain through which all pass to enter this world, just so, there is a pain barrier through which all pass to leave it behind. Yet, in spite of the pain, the young mother counts herself happy. She counts it as nothing in the ecstasy of the moment. So it is that the child of God counts every earthly pain as slight, even as nothing, in the ecstasy of the everlasting moment of eternity!
There is no conclusion to be gleaned from the mere circumstances of one's death. A tyrant or a murderer may, or may not, pass painlessly in the night. The children of Eternity may, or may not, endure a long and painful terminal illness. There is not and cannot be any purely earthly advantage from the commitment to Eternity. Such would contaminate it with the care for time. Whatever one's lot in this world, the person in the Way neither fears nor embraces it, but passes victorious over it into the Glory of the Father! It is only in the purity of this commitment that anyone can seriously consider the counsel of Jesus:Do not fear him who is able to destroy the body, and after that has no more that he can do (Matthew 10:28).Why should we fear another, who can only extract from us our losses, but who cannot touch our gain? We can go even further: if we are in Truth not afraid of death, it follows that there is no fear of those things that threaten life, and no anxiety about the loss of those things that sustain it.
Since many human institutions exist to provide security in the face of threats, clearly the person walking in the way of Christ needs no participation in them. This one fact is determinative of a broad spectrum of conduct, including the refusal of military service and political activities. Such a person lacks a mind for rationalizations about just wars, self defense, and similar things. Clearly, even under the strongest justification, a "just war" remains, in its essence, a response to threats. It is the response of fear to him who is able to destroy the body.
Third, the child of God in the Way of Christ is in Truth no threat to anyone else. This is a state incomprehensible to the people of the world, so that they see only a strange, foreign, different person. They see a person who is to be viewed with suspicion and as a threat to them or to their "way of life." They say, "If he is not one of us, he must be one of them!"
So it was that Jesus was incomprehensible to the Jewish rulers, who mistakenly viewed him as a threat expressed by the words, "The Romans will come and take away our place and our nation" (John 11:48). They ally such a person, irrationally and unreasonably, with all their worst enemies. They will not surprise him, then, if they heap calumny upon him, for, like those of old,They know not what they do (Luke 23:34).There is never any good reason for anyone in the Way of Christ to express violent or aggressive conduct toward the unbelievers. Such persons are, in this world, noncompetitors. This is the only reasonable position for one who, like the apostle, has counted everything as loss. In the realization of the blessed freedom from the bonds of the world and all its supposed threats, one finds the perfect freedom to respond to everyone in love. To seem vulnerable and defenseless in this world is a small thing, for it is in just such a state that one finds the assurance of heavenly security.
The Children of the Kingdom, living in the Way, are in this world nonthreatening noncompetitors whom nothing threatens. In the constant acknowledgment of this Truth lies the strength that gives stability and confidence. When the arch prince of darkness tempts to double mindedness, one need only take refuge in the Truth. If, for example, as an employee one is tempted to compete with fellow employees for a promotion in the world, then remember that this is only a loss, and the appropriate conduct will follow.
You see, then, how it is that God's children have a ready weapon always near in the struggle with evil. The Truth that we have in Christ Jesus, when oft acknowledged through deliberate recollection, makes us free. Its application confirms its power in every situation. So, if the Devil does not flee at the first suggestion, one need only enforce the word with the acknowledgment of the victory of our leader. He was not and never is a competitor in this world. He does not in reality threaten anyone and was not and is never threatened by any earthly loss – Including in particular the loss of his life. He did not fear those who could destroy the body but after that could do no more. His singleness of mind and purity of heart glorified him in his resurrection so that "every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Christ is Lord." Whenever we bid the Truth to mind in this way, by meditation on the example of Him who is Truth, it will be for us as it was for that solitary individual in the wilderness: "Satan left him, and angels came and ministered to him." Therefore, to maintain godly conduct one needs only this singleness of mind; the rest will follow. The power to do this is Truth, constantly acknowledged.
Two Widespread ErrorsOne needs to guard against two widespread errors. The first is self righteous Pharisaism, which supposes that righteousness resides in ourselves. It produces proud arrogance and condescension. Of ourselves we can do nothing but err. It is only by the power of Truth working in us that we manifest the righteousness of Christ. This enlightenment of the Holy Spirit that instructs us in Truth also reveals to our inner eyes our personal inadequacy to please God apart from the work and word of Christ. Yet, while we may be ashamed because of what we were before the hour of repentance, we dare not continue in a state of self denigration. We also see that God has accepted us as his sons and daughters so that we may with confidence approach the throne of Grace. We approach with neither shame nor pride, but in the blessed state of righteousness, peace, and joy that characterizes the Kingdom of God.
The second error to avoid is self abasing evangelicalism. This proclaims that there is nothing good in man, even after Christ has redeemed him. This error ascribes every aspect of righteousness to another, wholly other person, Christ Jesus alone. Each lives out his time on earth in shame at this low estate, never realizing that God has exalted us beyond measure. This self-abasement depresses one mentally and spiritually. Also, it is positively evil in that it denigrates the work of God, namely ourselves, and calls that creation "evil" that our Father calls "good."
Both errors, self righteousness and self denigration, are attempts to obtain righteousness on the grounds of the same fundamental heresy: the belief that our "sins" are equivalent to our misdeeds. In the first case, the Pharisee supposes that he has lifted himself by his bootstraps from bondage to sin and into a state of righteousness founded on deeds. In the second case, in foolish despair of self, they count such righteous deeds as impossible. Then they trust, just as foolishly, in the righteous deeds of another, Christ Jesus, as the grounds of their salvation and acceptability to God. In contrast, we know by the word of Christ that the righteousness of Christ, which has by God's grace become our righteousness also, consists in a disposition that deeds can only manifest. Any attempt to please God by focusing on deeds as the grounds of righteousness is futile to the utmost. There is but one disposition acceptable to the Father. Its word is near us, even in our hearts:Whoever loves his life, loses it; and he who hates his life in this world, will keep it for life eternal (John 12:25).This is the crucial word, full of both threat and promise, without equivocation or any other condition. First, whoever loves his life will lose it. This says nothing whatever about deeds, only about disposition – and it is the one and only essential condition. Second, whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for life eternal. Again, this says nothing about deeds. It only states, without exception or qualification, that whoever has this sole disposition will, without exception or qualification, enter our Father's glory.
This does not mean that deeds are unimportant. No, No! They become the telling evidence of our true disposition, raised in testimony for or against us on that day when He reveals every secret heart. Only, it is necessary to keep the horse before the cart through constantly cultivating the only godly disposition. That is the key, both to godly conduct and to the righteousness of Christ. It is so sad to hear the preachers – especially when they are delivering a funeral eulogy over the remains of a departed brother or sister. They say, "He loved life!" If they speak accurately, they are announcing his condemnation to all who hear, but they think they praise him! Apart from the accuracy of their speech, they always announce their condemnation as those who suppose, contrary to the Word, that the love of life is righteousness. Those who say "Amen" also testify against themselves on that day. These errors are everywhere about us so that we must always be vigilant, knowing that they have had much influence. When temptation to sin confronts their pitiful victims, they think that they will be delivered by much praying. So they pray, "Father, deliver me from this great evil," without ever realizing Truth or cultivating the only acceptable disposition. Is it any wonder when they fall into sin, not having appropriated the power of Truth which alone overcomes evil? Instead, they call upon the Father to intervene for them in a mystery! This is like commanding the stones to become bread, while the true bread lies untouched in the cupboard. Let our prayers be recitations of Truth offered up to God through the Holy Spirit, and we will be strengthened. Thus it was that Jesus prayed and received strength in the wilderness, in Olivet, and on the cross. See how he calls to mind the Truth in the "High Priestly" prayer of John's Gospel (John 17:1-26), as one after another he related the facts of his work on earth.
The Common DenominatorThere is no need for discussion of all the individual issues that we must decide during our sojourn in the Way of Christ. We settle every such issue with a single decision: the commitment to Eternity. While this commitment is secure, we will find the resolution to the particular issues to be clearly defined. Why should we smother the Truth in a sea of words about the issues, when all spring from a single root, and all have a single solution? Simple!
The "gray people" think of this as an over simplification. These are those who arm themselves to confront each issue with an array of words about "gray areas," which can only mean that in their hearts, the shadow rules. Such talk constitutes a convenient refuge from the light. The Truth is simple. Their way, by contrast, is a bewildering complexity of truths, half truths, and pure lies. It effectively insures against their ever realizing the childlike simplicity of the Way that leads to the only Father.
Now, "simple" does not mean "easy," and "complex" does not mean "hard." Any compromise can be justified by a complicated ideology, one that says both "yes" and "no" to everyone. Complexity is ideally suited to facilitate the choice of "the easy way" out of every moral dilemma. In the Way of Christ, it is always the either/or that rules, never the both/and. So, there is seldom any uncertainty about what is to be done to please the Father. Exactly here lies much of the sometimes terrible hardness of the Way – we can see it so clearly, and it always runs counter to the current of this world. It also follows that the Way is contrary to the wishes of those who have been and are yet close to us in the bonds of purely natural affection.
It is hard to maintain one's commitment against the opposition of those "dear ones" who were once our close relatives but who now are strangers. One loves them much more than before, but in a different way that defines the Good in a different way, for them and for oneself. The Love of God has transcended every other love. It transforms every other love to that of the highest plain of eternal values that knows no discrimination. Yet, they also remain close in a natural way until those who walk in the Way of Christ have by The Father's grace attained to the perfection that is in Christ Jesus. Satan, in full knowledge of this, uses these purely natural affections as barbed spears to prevent our doing as we should. This has to do with the subject of our true relatives, about which I have already written at length showing how they are to be defined by the Lord Jesus. He never yielded for a moment to purely natural affection, not even to call Mary "Mother," or Joseph "Father." By examining the subject again, with this discussion of the Way, one can better understand both our relationships in Truth and their dominant influence on our actions.
We have seen how those who set their minds on earthly things are quickly threatened by others of a similar mind set. We have also seen how, in consequence of the threat, they seek power in numbers by incorporating into national and supranational groupings. We can therefore classify such entities as "The Association of the Threatened Ones." Such associations inevitably become threats to others. These in turn feel compelled to respond by reinforcing their nationalism through parallel promotions of patriotism, civic duty, and the like things. Thus there is a snowballing process in the world in which the threatened threateners become ever more threatened and threatening, and they conduct themselves accordingly. Now, look sharply and you will see the solitary individuals who, in imitation of Christ, have set their affections exclusively on things above. Christ has delivered them from those earthly associations that exist solely for the sake of the threatened ones, because nothing threatens them. They no more belong to this world and are no longer related to it or to its children. Our "Common Denominator" resolves every dilemma!
This quality of "not-of-ness" is an automatic status resulting from genuine repentance. It is a fact, not an ideal or elusive goal. The faithful practice of abiding in the Word constantly enforces it in the minds of the solitary individuals. In consequence there is an automatic response that brings our deeds into conformity with the singleness of our minds, and redefines our relationships and our relatives. This is fitting for all who have been born of God – not of the flesh or of the will of the flesh, but of the will of God.
DutyNow it is also necessary to redefine the word "duty," and to give it a new significance. Is it to respond to the threats of the threatened, as though also threatened? Never! That may be their duty, but for those in the Way it is only hypocrisy. What patriotic, civic, or national duty can one have in any nation, when threats dictate such duties, and one is not threatened? When one is an alien to the state? When one's relationship is that of "not-of-ness?" No, it is none of these. It is instead the simplest thing imaginable: to respond to the will of the Father, and not to the contrary decrees of "The Fatherland." Yes, and what is the will of the Father? It is to set the mind on things above, and to love the Father himself with all the heart, mind, strength, and soul. Hard questions confront us, you say? How can you love your family, your friends, your neighbors, yet refuse to defend them from those who would do them bodily harm? Look carefully, and you will see that the guilt is in the mind of the questioner; for there is a dark duty, and there is an enlightened duty. The latter abides in the Truth and so sees only futility in efforts to preserve or protect an earthly status. It sees that very soon (oh, how soon!) one fate comes to all, both the victor and the vanquished, and all things thus pass away. Yes, even to the heavens and the earth (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33)!
There will always be defenders of the children of darkness, but God's children have the single duty to bear witness to the Truth in every circumstance. There is but one power that can deliver those who were once our relatives from the real enemy, the prince of this world with his arsenal of threats. That is the Christ witness, the consistent living testimony of the solitary individuals who hold steadfastly to the way of the cross, who thus can assist others into the glorious freedom of the children of God!
ConclusionThere is much truth in many of the evangelical hymns, such as this one by Jessie Brown Pounds and Charles H. Gabriel. How well I recall singing it together with my sisters and brothers in the church, many years ago:
The Way Of The Cross Leads HomeI must needs go home by the way of the cross,
There's no other way but this.
I shall ne'er get sight of the Gates of Light
If the way of the cross I miss.
The way of the cross leads home,
The way of the cross leads home;
It is sweet to know, as I onward go,
The way of the cross leads home.
I must needs go on in the blood-sprinkled way,
The path that the Savior trod,
If I ever climb to the heights sublime,
Where the soul is at home with God.
Then I bid farewell to the way of the world,
To walk in it never more;
For my Lord says "Come" and I seek my home,
Where he waits at the open door.
Brothers and Sisters, don't you listen to what you say when you sing?
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