Some years ago I was with my daughter and her in-laws at a local Farmer’s Market. As we passed through a sizeable crowd my daughter and I got separated. When she found me she said, “Well, that was pretty sad. I just heard a woman coming out of that store say, ‘That was a little too Christian.’” We weren’t sure what had happened but wondered what someone might have done that could be deemed “too Christian.” Had someone been too honest? Too nice? Too accommodating? Too helpful? The incident has stayed with me over the years. Whatever it was, that person did something that was so opposite of what the world expected that it struck a nerve. It still troubles me that the witness viewed the actions as negative rather than behavior we should aspire to.
Four or five years later I still wonder what transpired in that little market but know it could not have been too weighty. A crowd didn’t gather, there was no screaming or yelling. Perhaps someone returned money or excused someone for excessive rudeness. As small as the incident had to have been, I wonder what this woman’s reaction would be to the mother who forgives the man that murdered her child; the husband who forgives his wife for infidelity; the man who spends his last dime to help someone he barely knows. Most of us have a mental list of behaviors we deem nice enough or that we are willing to forgive; we also have a list of behaviors we feel are too tolerant, too risky, or that should not be forgiven. As Christians, we are to follow God’s direction regarding our behavior. As we work to implement these into our lives, we must remember that our culture will not understand them; most are deemed to be unreasonable and too much to expect from any human being.
Matthew 6:15 “But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
I love the back story about Peter asking Christ how often we are to forgive. The Jewish practice was three total offers to forgive (Job 33:29; Amos 2:4, 6). In Peter’s typical impulsive manner, he graciously asserts that perhaps seven times would be more in keeping with Jesus’s teachings. But Jesus provides an answer I imagine Peter probably felt was unreasonable: we are to forgive 70 x 7 times. Jesus was telling Peter that we are to forgive others an infinite number of times. We are not to keep track – forgive each time we are wronged with no regard to the type of offense and no regard for how many times we have had to forgive any particular person. This is how our heavenly Father forgives us. I am very thankful that God is not keeping a tally sheet of the times He has forgiven me – I passed 490 times a long, long time ago! Nor is He listing my behaviors in columns titled “Not So Bad,” Really Bad,” or “Almost Too Bad to Forgive!” I have a lot that would fall under this third column.
While I struggle with expressing Godly love, I do not struggle with the idea of forgiveness. God has forgiven me of some terrible things and I need that forgiveness, so must I forgive others. I somehow understand that even the most wretched and horrible person was not born that way. Something in their life happened – perhaps it was bad nurturing, maybe mental illness, natural desires that are difficult to control. That is not to say I condone sinful behavior – even the smallest sin is reprehensible to God, thus it is repulsive to me – nor do I believe it is necessary to continue interacting with anyone who continues to wreak havoc in our lives. Forgiveness doesn’t require either of these. But forgiveness does demand I recognize my own sinfulness and that we all need Jesus. I don’t stop needing Him after I have accepted Him. When I look at my fellow sinners, I see someone God can save and I must be available for God to use to accomplish that, I must pray for them without regard to what they are doing. Jesus is the only way to truly and permanently change the human heart.
The Sermon on the Mount provides us with a list of behaviors Jesus expects us to implement into our Christian lives. They are principles the world finds unreasonable. But when we can read this sermon without dismissing any and see the benefits we will gain from adopting them, why they are right, we are coming to a fuller understanding of God. In his lesson “The Sermon on the Mount” (at www.Bible.org) Bob Deffinbaugh writes: “In this day and age, when we in the church seem to be looking more and more like the society around us, there may be no better medicine than the Sermon on the Mount. It describes what human life and human community look like when they come under the gracious rule of God … Different … not the same…. We should note that the beatitudes do not refer to different groups of people as if some are merciful, others are peacemakers, and still others are called upon to endure persecution. Rather, this is a beautifully poetic way of describing the qualities of a kingdom citizen. All these qualities are to characterize each of His people.
Some have taken the beatitudes (and in fact the whole sermon) as a description of what one must do in order to enter the kingdom of God. …This cannot be further from the truth. It is clear from the text that Jesus is describing the qualities and duties of those already in the kingdom. The Sermon on the Mount is not a presentation of the gospel telling one how to get saved. As Dr. S. Lewis Johnson has humorously pointed out, when the Philippian jailer asked the apostle Paul, “what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30), Paul did not reply with, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The Sermon on the Mount is not how to get into the kingdom, but how you are to be because you are in the kingdom.”
Living our lives as directed in the Sermon on the Mount is difficult because it is against human nature– in the world’s eyes, they are all “a little too Christian.” But Jesus isn’t in the business of offering suggestions. We are to work towards making them a part of our daily lives, our chosen responses. And because they are not behaviors that we can adopt naturally, we must rely on the Holy Spirit to help us. When we exhibit these behaviors our testimony is strengthened and we have the blessings Jesus promises in the second half of each beatitude. At work I am often challenged because my passionate love for Jesus leads me to respond in unexpected ways. Some days I handle these situations better than others. On bad days, I often think that I’m wasting my time. It seems much more acceptable for people to growl at each other and make rude remarks. On those days I entertain the thought that since my efforts are viewed as insincere or hypocritical anyway, I might as well give up and act like the people around me. But God reminds me that my standard of behavior is not other people. I can’t give in to wanting to be accepted or to criticism. My standard of behavior is Jesus. There are no exceptions and no wiggle room. I cannot justify bad behavior by explaining to God that His requirements aren’t acceptable to the people around me, that they might find them a little “too Christian.”
Matthew 10:34-36 – “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”
There are people in society that many have decided we should not waste our time on. But we are not the ones to decide to give up on anyone. When God lays someone on our hearts, we must plant seeds until He directs us to stop. When someone questions why I spend time helping someone that has caused a lot of problems at work, I simply tell them it’s not my prerogative to give up on her. There are people in my family that haven’t spoken to each other in years and some who have created great chaos for my loved ones. But when God lays them on my heart, I cannot ignore God’s calling to spread His message to them, even when my family doesn’t understand. The pain my family goes through because of their inability to forgive is tremendous and it saddens me. But I must continue to be “too Christian” in every environment I am a part of. I know it is the only thing that will fix broken relationships and it is one way to glorify God.
Irwin Lutzer asked the question: What does it mean to live passionately for Christ? His answer: “To live as if Jesus lives.” Love the people Jesus loves (everyone); love them the way Jesus loves them (unconditionally); serve in the way Jesus served (humbly and daily). We have to give up the expectation that the world is going to understand why we live the way we live. Until someone truly turns their life over to Jesus, our behaviors will be viewed as irrational and naïve.
The next time I wrong someone, whether it is intentional or not, I pray the person I’m dealing with behaves in a way that is “a little too Christian.” Heck, I’d even take someone who is striving very hard to meet the minimum requirements! “A little too Christian” would be a real blessing!