The Most Difficult Mandate of the Christian Life

 A preview of April's email-only article.


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This month we're discussing one of the hardest things we Christians are commanded to do.

Here's how the article starts:

Jesus commanded quite a few impossible things.

He said we must pick up a cross if we want to follow him. He said if we want to be great we must be a servant to all. He said we should turn the other cheek.

But if you ask me, the most difficult of Christ's teachings is his instruction to forgive.

Jesus said, "If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt. 6:14-15).

On paper that seems totally logical and fair and true. But in real life it's never so easy is it?


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The Weird Backwardness of Christian Success

Because meekness is for winners.

Kraken Images

Everyone I know wants to succeed.

Those who do fail at something don't set out trying to fall flat on their faces.

What differs among us is how we define success. It seems that we all have some sort of idea of what it means to succeed in life even if we've never taken the time to verbalize it. These notions are often preconceived based on our culture, our upbringing, and our value system.

And while how we define success may vary wildly from one person to the next, generally speaking each definition contains some permutation of the following elements: wealth, health, comfort, peace, security, esteem, love, and accomplishment.

Take the fabled American Dream for example: Stable and fulfilling job, two cars, two kids, nice home, loving spouse, large 401k. Retire at 65 with a big nest egg. Spend that leisure time traveling and enjoying your cute grandkids. Sounds pretty nice, doesn't it?

And while there's nothing inherently wrong with that picture, Jesus offered up a weird backward definition of what it means to succeed. You see the people of his day wanted the same basic elements we do: wealth, long life, peace, and a large family. All blessings from God, right?

With this context in mind Jesus presented his famous Sermon on the Mount in which he suggested a different type of blessing--some sort of bizarro world in which those who undergo uncomfortable and otherwise unpleasant experiences actually benefit as a result.

Jesus taught about nine different blessings, that, for the most part, sound awful to this writer if I'm being honest. Here's what he said:

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:4-11

Jesus said we are blessed if we are poor in spirit, if we mourn, are meek, hunger for righteousness, are merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, persecuted, and slandered.

I'm cool with striving to be pure in heart and thirsting for righteousness, but I really don't want to have to mourn, to be persecuted, or slandered.

Of course, we need to make a distinction here. For some of these axioms, known as the Beatitudes, Jesus isn't teaching that we should seek out such circumstances. He isn't instructing his followers to seek out opportunities for others to "utter all kinds of evil against you falsely" (Matt 5:11). Instead, Jesus knew that those who follow him and serve God will be slandered.

He taught that when these things happen, we should not despair, but instead should be happy because God will reward those who suffer on his account.

So while blessing as defined by this world and the Old Testament way of thinking focuses only on the here and now--wealth, power, health, esteem, sex, drugs, and rock and roll--Jesus provided his followers with a long view of blessing. He taught that the reward in heaven would be great for those who undergo these trials.

So although we don't seek out persecution or mourning, we shouldn't be surprised or disappointed when these things come our way. Instead we should embrace them knowing that, while earthly riches and other such blessings will pass away, heavenly rewards will endure for eternity. Taking this long view makes hardship all the more palatable for those who follow Jesus.

Therefore we would do well to incorporate these elements into our definition of success. Rather than the size of your 401k, how much mercy have you shown? Instead of a paid for home, how much peace did you make with those around you?

The beatitudes comprise just one of myriad poignant lessons Jesus taught his followers, and he often used parables to get his point across. If you've ever wanted to explore these parables all in one place, you might be interested in my free quick reference guide called The 39 Parables of Christ, Explained.

I've compiled an exhaustive list and provided a decoder ring of sorts to help you understand the meaning behind each one. Whether you're looking to expand your knowledge or grow closer to Jesus, this guide might help you out. Just enter your email below and it's yours: