X. The Pattern of Christ and the Christian Lifestyle
Under the Old Covenant, the most concise enumeration of its "laws" was provided in the Decalogue. In addition to the Ten Commandments, however, the Mosaic administration imposed numerous additional rules and regulations, or ethics, to shape the lifestyle of its people. In the New Covenant, Christ has given us one "New Commandment" as the all-inclusive "law" of his administration. But he also provided a considerably detailed expression of the practical outworking of that law in his "Sermon on the Mount" - a manual, if you will, on how his new ethic is to shape the lifestyle of his followers (Matt. 5:1-7:29). There is evidence that this Sermon probably served as catechism for new converts in the early church.313 John R. W. Scott makes these interesting observations:
It seems likely (as many commentators ancient and modern have suggested) that [Christ] deliberately went up on the mountain to teach, in order to draw a parallel between Moses who received the law at Mount Sinai and himself who explained its implications to his disciples on the so-called "Mount of the Beatitudes," the traditional site of the Sermon on the northern shores of the Lake of Galilee. For, although Jesus was greater than Moses and although his message was more gospel than law, yet he did choose twelve apostles as the nucleus of a new Israel to correspond to the twelve patriarchs and tribes of the old. He also claimed to be both teacher and lord, gave his own authoritative interpretation of Moses' law, issued commandments and expected obedience. He even later invited his disciples to assume his "yoke'' or submit to his teaching, as they had previously borne the yoke of Torah.314
These practical ethical teachings provide us with "the substance of the new Law, the new Sinai, [and] the new Moses."315 Compared to the lifestyle of the world, the life to which Jesus calls us is radical, indeed. It is a life, in fact, that is beyond the desire and the capability of unbelievers. It is a life that cannot be attained except by those who are "in Christ."316 Central to the understanding of these principles, therefore, is the assumption of a faith union with Christ, and a genuine desire to obey his "New Commandment."
Thus the followers of Jesus are to be different - different from both the nominal church and the secular world, different from both the religious and the irreligious. The Sermon on the Mount is the most complete delineation anywhere in the New Testament of the Christian counter-culture. Here is a Christian value system, ethical standard, religious devotion, attitude to money, ambition, life-style and network of relationships - all of which are totally at variance with those of the non-Christian world. And this Christian counter-culture is the life of the kingdom of God, a fully human life indeed but lived out under the divine rule . . . They were not to take their cue from the people around them, but from him, and so prove to be genuine children of their heavenly Father. To me the key text of the Sermon on the Mount is 6:8: "Do not be like them."317
The practical implementation of Christ's New Covenant ethic is often hampered by two problems. First, believers are frequently unaware of the degree to which their thinking has been shaped by the world, rather than by the gospel. Secondly, denominationalism, non-biblical clergy/laity distinctions, a spiritually immature susceptibility to false teaching, "verse of the day" study habits, and a host of other contemporary distortions have often served to confuse - if not obscure altogether - the implications of Christ's ethic. Here are a few areas that often need improvement.
Believers Must take Interpersonal Relationships More Seriously
Hatred, which can even lead to murder, begins in the heart. The world allows hatred to fester - even deliberately fanning its consuming flame. This is not the way of the gospel. Hatred - even its least intense forms - must not be permitted to consume the mind and heart of the believer. It is imperative that any breach in human relationships be dealt with quickly and forthrightly. We are not to avoid those with whom we have differences, but make every effort to find a means to reconciliation. True, the New Testament speaks of situations where unrepentant offences require separation, but the procedures are very specific, and should only be implemented with much prayer, a genuine sense of loss, and with the consent of the body (Matt. 5:24; 18:15-18; Luke 12:58; Gal. 6:1-2; Jude 1:22-23).
Day by day, week by week, Christians ought to be dealing with interpersonal problems so that they do not pile up . . . Scripture places a premium on living on a daily basis with God; it makes daily dealing with our brothers an urgent matter . . . You don't dare let things go. If there is somebody with whom you are having difficult times or who is having difficulty with you, before this day is over straighten out the matter before God. Write that letter, make that phone call, or if possible pay that visit.318
Christians Must Leave Vengeance with God (Matt. 5:38-39; Luke 6:29; Rom. 12:17-21)
If the consequences were not so dire, it might be amusing how unbelievers, otherwise having little interest in Scripture, will try to justify acts of severe retribution by quoting the Old Covenant "eye for eye, tooth for tooth" principle. Sadly, professing believers often hide behind the same defense to vindicate retaliatory actions. The ethic that has its starting point with the example and teaching of Christ, however, simply does not permit us to "render evil for evil." On the contrary, we are specifically instructed,
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom 12:18-21).
In the world around us, even - if not especially - in America,319 violence has become an established way of life. Unfortunately, this sinful cultural degradation is "changing and shaping the Christians" more than Christians are changing their cultural surroundings.320 It is not responding in kind, however, but a commitment to Christ's ethic of nonviolence that most effectively curbs society's increasing propensity to accomplish things by force, as the above passage clearly reveals. We are to overcome evil, not by retaliation, but by acts of kindness. Interestingly, one secular study that compared various "power-coercive" forms of effecting cultural change with "non-violent" approaches found the latter to be the most effective in the long run.321
Christians Must Manifest Unconditional Love (Matt. 5:43-48; Luke 6:32-36)
The world's principle for relationships is "I will take care of you if you take care of me." It is not "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," but a self-serving "Do unto others as they do unto you." Jesus, however, has instructed his people to always respond with acts of kindness - even to those who may hate, misuse, curse at, or even physically abuse them. God himself is the reference point for this ethic (Matt. 5:48). He has shown goodness and mercy even to the ungrateful and wicked (Matt. 5:45; Luke 6:35). In a day when people are used to conditional relationships, the body of Christ has a unique opportunity to manifest a different spirit.
We can stop loving only the lovable, lending to the reliable, giving only to the grateful, as soon as we grasp and are grasped by the unconditionality of the benevolence of God.322
Christians Are to Be a Giving People (Matt. 5:40-41; Luke 6:30, 35, 38)
Our society operates on the principle of "If I give, what can I expect to get in return?" This flows naturally out of conditional relationships. On the contrary, Jesus' disciples are to freely give and extend themselves with no hope or concern for acknowledgement or return. "Giving" marked God's action and Christ's ministry more than anything else (John 3:16; Matt. 20:28), and this explains why Christians are to be known as a people who share with others with no strings attached.
Christians Are to Work For Peace (Matt. 5:9; Rom. 12:18; Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 3:11)
Strife and power politics are the modus operandi of the world. One of the principle objectives of Christ's work, however, was to bring peace in human relationships (Eph. 2:14-15; Col. 1:20). Only as people are brought into a right relationship with God in the gospel can this inherent propensity for conflict be resolved. Jesus' kingdom brings peace, and his people are to work for peace "in the community and the church."323 To pursue peace may at times necessitate confronting wrong doing in order to effect reconciliation. Genuine peace, therefore, is never realized by skirting Biblical duties and principles.
Paul is not so much concerned about the existence of disputes among Christians, as he is with how disputes are resolved . . . Resolution of disputes among believers, then, is a matter of first-rate ecclesiastical significance . . . We must move ministries of peace from the periphery of Christian concern to the center where they belong.324
In light of the threat of nuclear war to the world-at-large, there is a clear need for Christians to work for peace in this regard. Since nuclear war can in no way be construed as a "just war" (for it destroys the aggressor and probably the defender), Norman Geisler suggests that the Christian must be a "nuclear pacifist" with regard to an "all out nuclear war."325 While political activism and public protest are not the way of the gospel, a quiet, nonviolent, peace loving example by believers can have a "light" and "salt" affect on a society bent on self-destruction. Certainly the church, whose constituency should be comprised of "peacemakers," should have a role to play in this regard.326
Christians Are to Expect Suffering and Persecution (Matt. 5:10-12; Luke 6:22-23)
To follow Christ is to "walk as Jesus did" (1 John 2:26). He did not enter into his resurrected glory until he had first emptied the cup of suffering his Father had given him to drink (Matt. 26:39-42; Luke 24:26, 46; John 7:39; 18:11; 1 Pet. 1:11). In the same way, believers will not enter into their glory at Christ's return until they have first suffered on his behalf in this present age (John 16:33; Acts 14:22; Rom. 8:17-18; Col. 1:24; 2 Tim. 3:12; Tit. 2:12-13; 1 John 3:2). The true "success" of the church in this age, therefore, is not measured by outward prosperity, but by patient suffering at the hands of a hostile world (John 15:18-19). Rather than to be surprised and disheartened by persecution, we ought to be more like those early believers who rejoiced "because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name" (Acts 5:41). This is an important point, because it defines the appropriate stance of the church in an unbelieving culture: a minority counter-culture in the midst of an unbelieving and hostile counter-culture.
We ought not to be strangers to alienation, minority status, even exile. Indeed, significant voices from other segments of the American church . . . have recently urged that exile must be the posture for the faithful Christians today.327
To marshal believers to "take over" society, or to envision a time before Christ's return when the church will dominate culture (and thus escape persecution by gaining the upper hand), is totally contrary to the ordained pattern established by Christ: first suffering, then glory!
The New Covenant People and Politics
[In his original thesis, Jon included a section entitled, "The New Covenant People and Politics." It was a serious challenge to the growing notion that believers must take an active roll in the shaping of government and political interests. Fifteen years have gone by, and as of this writing we are more convinced than ever of the negative impact such religio-political entanglement has had on the effectiveness of the gospel. In recent years, we have published several editions of this magazine that have focused on this important subject. For that reason, we have decided not to include the section on politics from the original thesis, but rather to refer our readers to these more up-to-date treatments. In particular, the issue of Searching Together immediately preceding this special edition (Spring 97) perhaps best conveys our present views on the relationship between church and state, between believers and politics. Other issues also dealing with religio-political concerns include Winter 1982, Spring/Summer 1989 and Autumn 1995. All of these back issues are available to those who may be interested in further study.]
313. John H. Yoder, The Original Revolution, Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1977, p. 35.
314. John R.W. Stott, Christian Counter-Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, Downers Grove: IVP,1978, p. 20.
315. Stott, p. 21.
316. Stott, p. 29.
317. Stott, pp. 19, 18.
318. Jay Adams, Christian Living in the Home, Nutley, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1972, pp37-38; Ronald Kraybill, Repairing the Breach: Ministering in Community Conflict, Akron, Pa.: Mennonite Central Committee, 1981, pp. 53-71.
319. Thomas Rose, ed., Violence in America, New York: Random House, 1969.
320. Jim Wallis, "Carl Henry on Evangelical Identity," Sojourners, April 1976, p. 25.
321. Robert Chin and Kenneth Benne, "General Strategies for Effecting Changes in Human Systems," Organization Development, Wendall French et al., eds., Dallas: Business Publications, 1978, pp. 94-111.
322. Yoder, p. 47.
323. Stott, p. 50; Jean-Michel Hornus, It is not Lawful for Me to Fight: Early Christian Attitudes toward War, Violence, and the State, Scottdale, Pa., Herald Press,1980, for a significant study on how the early church took this mandate seriously.
324. Kraybill, pp. 12-13.
325. Norman Geisler, Ethics: Alternatives and Issues, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971, p. 176.
326. Ronald J. Sider and Richard K. Taylor, Nuclear Holocaust and Christian Hope: A Book for Christian Peacemakers, Downers Grove, IVP, 1982.
327. J.R. Burkholder and John Bender, Children of Peace, Scottdale, Pa.: Mennonite Publishing House, 1982, p. 22; Mark McCulley, "Exile or Conquest? Power-Seeking and the New Puritans," Searching Together, 11:4, 1982, pp. 20-33.
This is My Beloved Son, Hear Him. Jon Zens. Searching Together. Summer-Winter 1997, Vol. 25:1,2,3. Pages 82-86.