The best one-volume introduction to the Christian faith I’ve seen is What’s Christianity All About? by John Schwarz. There is also a condensed version of this book titled Living Faith(containing approximately 25% of the complete content). John has given me permission to reprint the entire text of Living Faith on this website. A chapter a day for ten days will be presented here as Meditations #926-#935. These meditations will be considerably longer than my usual post, but if you take the time to read them you will receive an excellent overview of the basics of Christianity. For more thorough study of the subjects in the ten chapters, purchase the larger book What’s Christianity All About? (Print and electronic versions available at Amazon.com).
CHAPTER TEN: LIVING CHRISTIANLY IN THE WORLD
Habits of Godly Living
The year 1989 saw the publication of Stephen Covey’s national bestseller The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. How can we live out and give witness to our Christian faith in today’s world? One way would be to develop “Seven Habits of Godly Living” from the second tablet commandments (five through ten), Jesus’ Beatitudes and antitheses in the Sermon on the Mount, Paul’s fruit of the Spirit in his letter to the Galatians (5:22-23), Paul’s virtues in his letter to the Colossians (3:12-15), and Paul’s teachings on Christian behavior in Romans (12:9-21). From these and other texts, we can develop “Habits of Godly Living” to guide us in living Christian lives in our homes, neighborhoods, and places of work.
The Ten Commandments: Rules for Christian Living
Israel was called to be Gods “light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:6), something that would draw people to God. How was Israel to be such a people? By observing the commandments God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai, contained in the books of Exodus (20:3-17) and Deuteronomy (5:7-21). Jesus affirms the commandments in his dialogue with the rich young man (Mark 10:19), and the apostle Paul does so in his letter to the Romans (13:9).
Many people read the Ten Commandments as a series of narrow shall nots. But Pastor James Moore, in his book When All Else Fails. . . Read the Instructions, says, “The Ten Commandments tell us how things work, how life holds together, how God meant things to be. Anyone can see that life is better when we love God and other people… when we respect our parents and tell the truth… and when we are honest and faithful in all of our relationships.”
1. You shall have no other gods before me. The word “gods” refers to the fact that there were many gods in the ancient world. Today we do not think in terms of a plurality of “gods,” but we do worship other gods— reputation, success, wealth, power, pleasure. We are called to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Mark 12:30), which means giving God first priority in our lives.
2. You shall not make for yourself an idol. God told Moses, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). God spoke but was not seen. For this reason no graven (sculpted, carved or chiseled) image was possible. Today we don’t make idols of God, but we do idolize others— royalty, rock musicians, movie and television stars, and professional athletes. We are called to worship God and God alone.
3. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The word God does not mean the name of God— which was so sacred that it was never audibly uttered in ancient Israel— but the essence of God. Today this commandment refers primarily to language that profanes God in speech, jokes, writings and graffiti… We are to take God’s name in earnest, not in vain, as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Hallowed be thy name.”
4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. God rested on the seventh day so that he could enjoy his creation; the Israelites rested on the seventh day so that they could enjoy God. Today Sunday has moved from a holy day to a holiday. We honor this commandment by keeping Sunday holy.
5. Honor your father and your mother. The remaining six commandments have to do with our relationships with others— our parents, our spouse and our neighbors. Today we have a diminished view of the family, and also the elderly (we admire youth and youthfulness, not old age). We need to care for those who have no family— those for whom we can become family— showing the kind of hospitality Jesus referred to when he said, in the story of the sheep and the goats, “I was a stranger and you invited me in” (Matthew 25:35).
6. You shall not murder. This commandment has to do with the sanctity of life. It has been broadened by some to include any form of killing and furnishes the biblical basis for those who oppose capital punishment, war, euthanasia, even recruitment into the armed forces. It also furnishes the basis for those who say that aborting an embryo is killing one made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26).
7. You shall not commit adultery. This commandment protects the institution of marriage, in which God joins man and woman together to become “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24 and Mark 10:6-9).
8. You shall not steal. This commandment has to do with honesty. In its broadest form, it deals with the misappropriation of funds and property, the manipulation of others through bribery and payoffs, and the falsification of reports and records,
9. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. This commandment has to do with truthfulness. It includes perjury, slander, libel and gossip— in fact, the protection of another person’s reputation against any form of false witness, even remaining silent when a person is being wrongly slandered.
10. You shall not covet. The final commandment is a prohibition against desiring and lusting after status and success, wealth and possessions, health and youthfulness, and pleasure in all its physical forms. Coveting (envy) is one of the seven deadly sins. How do we control covetousness? By practicing its opposite, which is contentedness.
The Sermon on the Mount: The Christian Manifesto
There are two so-called sermons in the Gospels: Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-7:29) and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:17-49). Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount is the more familiar of the two. It is presented as a single piece, but many believe it is a summary of Jesus’ teachings because of its length and complexity and because there is a different placement of the various passages in Luke’s Gospel. On which “mount” the sermon was preached is not known, but in the Bible mounts are places where God has spoken and revealed himself. Examples include Mount Moriah (where Isaac was taken to be sacrificed), Mount Sinai, Mount Carmel (where Elijah battled the prophets of Baal), the Mount of Transfiguration, and Mount Zion, where the psalmist says God “resides” (Psalm 48:1-2).
The Sermon on the Mount opens with eight Beatitudes or ‘Blesseds’— eight qualities that should be seen in the lives of Christians; like Paul’s nine fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Some have conjectured that the Beatitudes are the ‘bottom lines’ of sermons that Jesus preached time and again throughout Galilee, which Matthew has brilliantly summarized into a series of eight teachings.
- Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who realize that they are helpless to save themselves, those who put their total trust and hope in God, those who wager everything on the grace and mercy of God. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, to whom can we go? You [alone] have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
- Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are those who grieve over the cruelty and pains of the world, those who are moved by the sufferings of others and offer them comfort rather than passing by; like the Good Samaritan, who came to the aid of the man beaten by robbers on the road to Jericho (Luke 10:25-37).
- Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who are gentle, loving and compassionate, those who are willing to humble themselves before others; like the father who humbled himself before his wasteful younger son and his angry older son in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-31).
- Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are those who hunger to be right with God, those who thirst after his will, those who desire to be upright and righteous in his sight. Amos told the Israelites that God does not want false worship; he wants to see “justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5:24).
- Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are those who do not repay evil with evil but with love, those who show kindness and mercy to all, those who are willing to forgive and forget grievances against them, as Jesus did on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34)
- Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are those whose motives are true and genuine, those who pray for an inner purity of heart, as David did after his affair with Bathsheba, when he prayed: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 5 1: 10).
- Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who strive for peace and for right relationships, those who are peacemakers between persons at enmity with one another, those like Saint Francis of Assisi, who prayed, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”
- Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Blessed are those who speak out against social and political injustice and those who are willing to defend Christ’s name before others. Jesus said that those who suffer for his sake and stand “firm to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13).
Jesus’ Other Teachings
Jesus’ other teachings in the sermon have to do with being salt and light in the world; the six antitheses (“You have heard it said.. . , but I say.. .”); prayer and fasting; the error of seeing the speck in another’s eye but not the plank in our own; asking, seeking and knocking, for God wishes to “give good gifts to those who ask him”; the impossibility of serving two masters (God and wealth); seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; the Golden Rule; the narrow gate; the good tree; and the strong, well-built house.
The Sermon on the Mount Today
How can we live out the Sermon on the Mount? One way is to keep our focus on the preacher of the sermon, namely, Jesus. Charles Blondin, the French tightrope walker, crossed over Niagara Falls several times in the summer of 1859. When he was asked how he did it, Blondin said, “I keep my eyes on an object on the far side of the falls and never look away.” How can we live the Sermon on the Mount? By keeping our eyes on Jesus.
There are some forty-five parables in the Gospels, all of which appear in the first three Gospels (John uses discourses rather than parables). The German scholar Joachim Jeremias said that all of Jesus’ parables are unique. When we read or hear them, Jeremias said, we encounter Jesus “face to face.”
The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The Good Samaritan is perhaps Jesus’ best known parable. A ‘lawyer’ (an expert in the law of Moses) asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. The lawyer understood the two great commandments— to love God (Deuteronomy 6:5) and to love one’s neighbor (Leviticus 19:18). What he didn’t understand was that a neighbor was anyone in need. In the parable, the priest and the Levite are more interested in keeping the law— not touching the fallen man, who might have defiled them— than in showing love and mercy to someone in need. The Good Samaritan was and is the perfect example of loving one’s neighbor. He did something that was totally unexpected— coming to the aid of a Jew (Jews and Samaritans had no relations with each other, according to John 4:9); he acted spontaneously, without worrying or wondering what he should do; and he did more than the minimum— he treated the man’s wounds, he transported the man to the inn and paid for his care, and he agreed to pay more if more was needed. The parable of the Good Samaritan presents a problem: are we to care for everyone who crosses our path? If not, where do we draw the line? Jesus’ command to love one’s neighbor is a universal command; it is not limited to those who are easy or convenient to love. Today, in Israel, it might mean a Jew showing love to a Palestinian or vice versa. In the United States, it might mean having concern for an American Muslim or someone accused of a crime or someone with a different sexual orientation.
The Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). The parable of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus (not to be confused with the Lazarus in John’s Gospel), who sat at the rich man’s gate waiting for a crumb, is one of many parables in Luke about the proper use of one’s wealth. The poor man died and was carried away by angels; the rich man died and went to Hades. Why the switch? Because the rich man ignored the poor man at his gate, and in so doing he ignored God as well. The apostle John echoes the teaching of this parable, saying, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 John 3:17). One day we will be called to account for the gifts and blessings we have received— and our treatment of those at our gate.