I've been using part of my morning devotional time this month to study the Sermon on the Mount but haven't gotten past the Beatitudes (the very beginning). In the process I'm learning a lot about what it means to be part of the kingdom of God.
One thing that struck me last week came from Luke's series of "woes" that stand in contrast to the beatitude blessings.
- Woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
- Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.
- Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.
- Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.
Take a look at that list from Luke 6: 24-26. That's pretty much everything we hope to attain in life, you know? Wealth, satisfaction, happiness, and respect! What's wrong with that? We know from the rest of Scripture that our standing before God doesn't have to do with being poor, miserable, and reviled. It has to do with trusting in Christ. So what's the deal with this bizarre condemnation?
My best guess is that it's about putting your hope in riches, material things, short-term happiness, and the praise of men. If that's where your hope and trust are, you will be disappointed-- if not here (and likely it will be here), then for sure at the hour of your death. Jesus's disciples hope in Him and will not be put to shame.
The most shocking of all of these to me was the last. Oh, how I long for all men to speak well of me! Surely it's not wrong to want to be above reproach! Particularly here in Peru, where many people know or guess that I'm a Christian missionary, I spend a lot of time trying to do the right thing to gain the respect of others and represent Jesus well. But Jesus Himself says that if all men speak well of me, I must be doing something wrong. I need a higher goal than gaining the approval of others. I need to put my hope somewhere else.
That's hard for me. I think I spend a lot of time trying to be "normal" and not stick out as a Christian weirdo. I've reasoned that if I stand out as different, it will turn others away from Christianity and reinforce the stereotypes people already have. As I look at the Sermon on the Mount, I wonder if I didn't make that theory up as a justification for my insecurity and fear. After all, Jesus never said I would (or should) look normal and people would always say good things about me.
What He did say is that Christians don't fit in; they stand out. If I'm living the life He calls me to, I will stand out-- sometimes in a way that brings God glory and sometimes in a way that brings me persecution. Maybe the two aren't always mutually exclusive anyway.
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 2 Timothy 3:12
You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16