We are reliant in almost every area of our lives for a plan, a blueprint, a GPS, or a map of some sort. They give us the “how” of how to get from point A to point B or how to build something that has a good foundation, sturdy walls, a roof, and all we need tucked inside. Our electronic devices give us a great many of the “how’s” of life. If we can’t Google it, there is always a You Tube video waiting to show us the “how” we are seeking. Since it is less and less likely we can reach someone on a phone at a business or organization to give that information, we all often rely on these tools to help us.
When we join any organization or group of any type, there is usually someone who will “show us the ropes” for what it is we need, but what happens when we become believers? It would be wonderful to say that everyone has access to good teaching, discipleship, and mentoring, but that is often not the case despite the claims of most bodies of believers. If any of these good things are present, we learn a lot of the basics of what we are to do reading the Bible, prayer, serving, and so on. Somehow even those leave gaps for us because each situation is different in our daily lives and there is no quick You Tube video on “how to” handle them.
But God had us pretty well figured out and planned for that as well. Yes, Jesus came to earth, and we got to observe and see how He lived and are encouraged to follow that model, but one thing we might fail to realize is the treasure trove of “how to” live out our life as a believer left to us in the writings of Matthew in three chapters of his Gospel.
The site was a hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee where Jesus stood to teach untold numbers of those who wanted to hear what this great teacher and possible Messiah had to say. Those three chapters are what is referred to as the “Sermon on the Mount” and the place to look for a group of verses known as “the Beatitudes.” They are all found in Matthew 5-7. Many of you have heard sermons on them or read them yourself. Often, we read along without considering that within these three chapters is the “how” of living out the life Jesus was calling those who met on the hillside that day and those of us living today as well. The last episode of the second season of The Chosen ends with a scene of Jesus preparing to teach these very passages.
One of the reasons I will sometimes choose to read these chapters in The Message rendering is because it gives us the “how to” in the straightforward language common to us today. Here is an example of the “how to” Jesus left to us and that Matthew carefully details:
“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.”Matthew 7:1-5 (MSG)
Those are very clear directions of how to behave, to live as He would have us live. There is nothing ambiguous about them. Perhaps if we don’t linger over these chapters, it relates they leave no room for doubt or debate. Sometimes we cite the 10 Commandments as directives, but these chapters in Matthew flesh out the “how to” we are called to live, do, and be.
A few verses later from the ones cited, it breaks it down to the basics even more:
“Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get.”Matthew 7:12 (MSG)
So if you want someone to respect you, respect them. If you want someone to listen to you, listen to them. If you want someone to accept you, accept them. If you want someone to see your point of view, consider listening to theirs. If you want to have a friend, be a friend. If you want someone to understand you, try to understand them. If you don’t want someone to shout at you, don’t shout at them. If you want grace given to you, offer it to others (even if you don’t think they deserve the gift…you didn’t deserve it either when Christ gave it to you).
It is a paradox that we keep writing new rules and laws to define good behavior and how to live with one another. There are thousands and thousands of pages spun 15 different ways and Jesus already summed it up and if we were living them out none of these thousands and thousands of pages that are not followed anyway by so many would not be needed. Jesus knew from the outset that humankind needed freedom but also rule-governed behavior. The absence of one leads to tyranny and subjugation. The absence of the other leads to anarchy that destroys everything and everyone in its path.
The “how to” is there. What will we choose to do with it?