Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
There were three things that were expected of ministerial students if you ever wanted to get a call to the ministry: You needed to go to college, spend time selling books as a colporteur, and have a wife. I found it was easier getting married than it was selling books! I did get married at age 20, some 60 years ago. To finance my stay in college and get the colporteur experience, I decided to sell books in northern Minnesota. Turns out, I got a lot more ministerial experience than book-selling, listening to two grown men argue in a church in my canvassing area. Both were stalwarts in the church. They had a heated argument over a theological issue on how people are saved.
One was a Law Man and the other was a Grace Man. They quoted texts from here and there to support their positions. For every grace text quoted, there was a scripture admonishing us to obey. For every text that required obedience, there was a counter text about grace. And so it went, back and forth, which is all I remember about going to church that summer. Both were very adamant about their biblical position. Truth, to them, was an either/or, no-gray-whatsoever situation, and the possibility of two points of view being correct was plainly unthinkable. They were articulating righteousness in their own insulated way. It was fun and interesting to listen to but not edifying, a battle of proof-texting.
Unfortunately, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was not a part of their debate. Neither was Jesus’ interaction with religious expert in Luke’s Gospel.
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” —Luke 10:26-28
Here, Jesus summarizes the law as loving God and loving neighbor. This second commandment involves the nitty-gritty aspects of keeping the law as we go about our day-by-day life. Certainly, this is challenging. For me, loving my neighbor as myself, including sometimes even a fellow church member, is a struggle, and I think the two saints in northern Minnesota struggled with it also.
Then there’s loving oneself. Only an egotist would admit that they love themselves, right? Yet Jesus implied we must love ourselves with the statement ‘to love your neighbor as yourself.’ It seemed that neither of those Minnesota saints struggled here. But even Scripture says that no one ever hated their own self (Eph 5:29). C. S. Lewis, a Christian apologist, states that to obey this second commandment, you treat others in their best interest just as you treat yourself in your best interest. Since I love myself, I always treat myself in my best interest and hence to do the same with others.
There are people that I don’t like, and there are times when I don’t even like myself! In fact there are occasions when I would like to step out of my skin and give myself a swift boot, but through it all I will always treat myself in my best interest. And Jesus said do likewise toward my neighbor. And we all know who our neighbors are!
It is easy to make an example out of the two men, but I need to apply the above to myself and to those with whom I have sharp disagreement in church matters. Charles Scriven sums it up so well with these words:
I understand anger over the mistakes of conventional leaders and theologians . . . I wish we could grow past it, not into lap-dog acceptance of whatever is, but into some sort of tranquil regard for those with whom we disagree. But that's very, very hard.
I am a work in progress!