The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Christians: A Postscript
Matthew 5:1-2, 10-12
A few weeks ago, I received a vivid reminder of something we tend to forget: sometimes the cost of commitment to Jesus Christ can be very high…
I watched as my friend the Indian evangelist, Kamalekar, baptized new believers into the Christian faith. Kamalekar asked each individual four questions: Do you love Jesus? (The basic question of faith.) Do you love Jesus enough to give up your name? (It’s the custom in India at baptism to lay aside one’s pagan or Hindu name and take a new name drawn from the pages of the Bible.) Do you love Jesus enough to give up your family? (In India, acceptance of Jesus Christ means not just disinheritance, but instant banishment from one’s Hindu or pagan family forever.) And do you love Jesus enough to give up your life? (Christians in India are subject to harassment, to beatings, and even to death. Just a couple of days ago, I was distressed to learn that several of the evangelists and church planters in the regions I visited were gunned down by Hindu extremists.) I wonder what would happen if our own embrace of the Christian faith forced us to answer those questions and then face the possibility of such agonizing persecution.
Yet the more I have thought about it, the more I realize that there is always a cost to our commitment in faith to Jesus Christ. There is always the reality of persecution—whether it is overt as it is in India, or subtle as it is in America. I suppose that’s why Jesus found it necessary to add a P. S., a postscript, to the Beatitudes. Understand, please, that it is a postscript. Some people call it the eighth Beatitude. That is not accurate. The seven Beatitudes all speak of the things we are to do if we are going to live as Jesus wants us to live. The postscript is different. It speaks of what will be done to us if we live the way Jesus wants us to live.
It is as if, almost as an afterthought, Jesus added these words to His seven principles for human behavior. “O by the way, if you live the Beatitudes out there in the day-to-day world, people may not like it or even like you. They may turn against you and give you a hard time. But do not be afraid. I am with you. I will protect you. I will see you through.” The Bible, of course, quotes Jesus as saying it like this: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men 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 men persecuted the prophets who were before you.” What a marvelous promise from the lips of our Lord!
For let’s remember, please, that that promise was needed in the days of the early Church.
The early Christians lived daily under the threat of persecution. It was a constant, foreboding, and fearsome cloud always hanging over them. It took incredible courage to be a Christian in those early days. Jesus knew that. And He knew that additional persecutions were to come. So He didn’t mince His words. He laid it on the line. He never left people in doubt about what would happen to them if they chose to follow Him. He made it clear that He had come not to make life easy but to make people great. And it was true that those early Christians had to be greatly committed to their faith in order to stand up before the relentless waves of persecution. Many of them lost their jobs. Many of them were ostracized in their communities. Some of them were kicked out of their homes.
Then there was the slander. They were accused of cannibalism. The words of the Lord’s Supper—”This is my body…This is my blood”—were twisted into a false story that Christians were sacrificing humans and eating their flesh. In addition, the weekly meeting was called “The Agape”, which means “The Love Feast”—and you can just imagine what the wagging tongues did with that, maliciously accusing the Christians of sexual immorality and perversion. It was all a lie. There was not a shred of truth to it. It was all cruel gossip and hateful slander—yet those early Christians had to live with it continually.
But the worst form of persecution came from the political power of the Roman Empire. The Romans needed a way to exercise control over the people living in their far-flung empire and emperor-worship emerged as the way to accomplish that. It became compulsory for the people, at least once a year, to come and burn incense as an act of homage to Caesar. They had to bow down and say the words “Caesar is Lord.” Needless to say, the Christians refused to do that. For them Jesus Christ was Lord—and on that they would not compromise. They would not give that title to anyone else. Confronted with the choice, “Caesar or Christ?” they unflinchingly chose Christ. The earliest Christian creed was just three words long—”Jesus is Lord”—but every time they said those three words it was tantamount to signing their own death warrants.
They were tied to the stake, covered with pitch and set on fire. They were fed to the lions. They were sewn into the skins of wild animals and then for sport, hunting dogs were released upon them to tear them to death. They were tortured upon the rack. They were scraped with pincers. Molten lead was poured hissing upon them. I know that these are not pleasant things to think about or talk about, but that was what people had to be prepared for if they took their stand with Jesus Christ. Little wonder that Jesus added this postscript of promise to the Beatitudes—His “Seven Habits Of Highly Effective Christians.”
Then let’s remember that the promise is needed in the church of our own time.
From the beginning, the followers of Jesus have been reviled, attacked, and falsely accused for righteousness’ sake. Sadly, it still happens. It’s more subtle now, but it is still there. If you dare to love in the name of Christ, hatred will try to bash you. If you dare to care, someone will rise up to question your motives. If you dare to tell the truth, falsehood will come slithering like a snake out from under a rock, hissing its lies about you. If you dare to do good, then evil will rise up against you and try to destroy you.
Henrik Ibsen’s play “Enemy of the People” is about a public health official who, because he exposed a social evil in his community, found himself deserted by the city officials, by public opinion, by his friends, and even finally by his family. That can be the fate of anyone who stubbornly stands for what is good and right and true in the name of Jesus Christ.
True story. A couple in a small town in the Midwest, had a son who played on the high school football team. He didn’t get to play much but his parents were always there, supporting their son. One Friday night after a game, they started home with their son, and they passed a boy walking down the side of the road. It was the team’s star quarterback. They offered him a ride. But when they reached his home it was dark. They said, “Are your folks not home?” He replied: “No, they’re not.” They asked: “Were they at the game?” The boy said: “No.” Then the story unfolded. His parents were out of town and he didn’t know when they were returning. What’s more, his parents had never been to one of his games. They didn’t care. No love, no encouragement, no support. The family became much concerned about this boy. They took him home with them that night. The next day they contacted the high school principal and found that there were several other students in similar predicaments. So, in cooperation with the minister at the church, they formed a group to provide support for these kids. They opened their home to them. On Monday nights, they tutored the kids. On Wednesdays, they had Bible study and sharing time. On Fridays, after the games, they had parties for the kids. It was great for the kids.
Unfortunately, down at the local coffee shop, tongues began to wag. The suggestion was made that anybody who would take kids into their home like that was up to no good—drugs, dirty movies, illicit behavior—there was no telling what that couple was doing to those impressionable young people. The rumors took root and spread. The gossip became so bad that the man lost his job. The couple was crushed, heartbroken. They had to leave town and start over in some other place. And it was all a lie—not one word of truth in it. They were trying to do something good—and evil rose up against them.
It happens that way sometimes. If you live and act and speak in obedience to Jesus Christ, it will stab the consciences of those who aren’t doing anything good—and they will try to hurt you. I have seen it happen. But the good news is this: ultimately God and His righteousness will win, and He will share that victory with us.
Now let’s remember how we can claim this promise in our own lives.
If we dedicate ourselves to living for Christ and for righteousness and for goodness and for justice, then we shall encounter opposition. What do we do then? Three quick suggestions.
Number One: Hold on to your commitment to Christ. Don’t give up and don’t sell out. Martin Niemoeller was a German pastor who openly criticized Hitler’s racist policies. He was arrested and placed in a concentration camp. At one point, another pastor came to him and said: “Martin, you should have kept your mouth shut. Even now, if you would recant your remarks, you could go free. Why in the world do you want to languish in this prison?” Niemoeller looked his well-meaning friend square in the eye and said: “I think the real question is Why in the world aren’t you in this prison with me?” When you encounter opposition in your attempt to stand for Jesus Christ, don’t give up and don’t sell out. Hold on to your commitment to Christ. That’s suggestion Number One.
Number Two: Hold on to the spirit of Christ. Don’t descend to the level of those who oppose you or ridicule you or revile you. Take the high road. Always live in the spirit of Jesus Christ. He was attacked—yet He chose not to attack in return. I have always found it helpful to remember what a wag once said. He said: “Never wrestle with a pig in a pigpen. You just get dirty and he likes it!” Don’t use the tactics of those who oppose the faith. Hold on to the spirit of Christ. That’s suggestion Number Two.
Number Three: Hold on to your trust in Christ. Do you remember the book, The Hiding Place? It was written by Corrie Ten Boom and it described her experiences leading up to and then being imprisoned in a Nazi death camp. At one point in the story, she unfolded a line which proceeded to wrap itself around my heart and never let go. She wrote: “There is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still.” That says it all. Come what may, we can trust the Lord. That’s what this postscript to the Beatitudes is all about. Hold on to your trust in Christ. That’s suggestion Number Three.
Well, let me finish with this, and it is, I think, a fitting finish to our study of the Beatitudes…
John Chrysostom was one of the great heroes of our faith back in the fourth century. Because he so boldly and visibly lived and spoke for Jesus Christ, and because he openly declared that Jesus, not the Roman Caesar, was Lord, John Chrysostom was arrested and tried before the Roman emperor Arcadius. As Arcadius pondered the punishment he should mete out to Chrysostom, he first threatened him with banishment. “Sir,” replied John Chrysostom, “it is impossible for you to banish me from my home because the whole world is my Father’s house.” Arcadius then threatened to strip Chrysostom of all he owned and confiscate all his possessions. But Chrysostom replied: “My treasures are in heaven, where no one can break through and steal.” The emperor then said: “I will cast you in prison and lock you away from all human contact.” And Chrysostom responded: “But, Sir, I have a Friend who has promised never to leave me or forsake me.” Exasperated, Arcadius then angrily threatened him with death. John Chrysostom then said: “Death has no terror for me. I shall spend eternity with Jesus Christ.” What could the emperor do to him or with him? Nothing! In Jesus Christ, John Chrysostom could face anything, serene and unafraid.
That’s the message I want to leave with you. If you live life the way Jesus wants you to live it—the way He has outlined in the Beatitudes—it will not be easy. It may be very hard. But do not be afraid. Our Lord will see you through. That’s His promise. And Jesus always keeps His promises…