Jesus’s 12 Rules for Life (Part 2)
In the first post in this series, we introduced the idea that rules are becoming increasingly popular for culture at large. Why? It’s hard to say. Perhaps as we’ve cast off from the shore of what we once knew, we are looking for a way back. Or maybe in the grand scheme of things we’re merely at the point in the ever-present pendulum swing between grace and truth that we need a little more guidance than is being offered.
Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount fills this gap. The greatest of all teachings on life, Jesus’s sermon embodies “rules” for getting along in this confusing world.
This is a three-part series covering the entire sermon, dividing it up into 12 rules. As mentioned before, this is not meant to be an exegesis or even a commentary, but merely an imagining of sorts inspired by Jesus’s words. Last time, we covered rules 1-4, which brings us to rules 5-8 in the middle of the sermon.
5. Treat people like they’re more than their body parts.
When you fail to do this, you are committing a special kind of violence to them and to yourself. In the same way a butcher cuts off the leg of a cow, we are at our worst when we only want a person for a specific part of them. This causes us to see people as things for our own pleasure instead of whole persons who are worthy of love. This turns us into butchers ourselves, but of people. It’s a type of cannibalism, and it’s unfortunately one that some around you may be ignorant enough to celebrate. We adults have failed in this as much as anyone, by the way. Be gentle with your mistakes. They can only define you if you let them. True beauty can never be damaged beyond repair.
Love, by the way, is not just enjoying someone’s body, but being willing to give your life for theirs. But THAT only works if both parties participate. If only one person in a relationship is the one sacrificing, that’s not a relationship. You will never lead others or help lead a relationship or a family if you cannot lead yourself. Disney may want you to believe that there’s such a thing as soulmates, but the truth is that any real and true relationship takes character, patience, and discipline. That’s where real joy comes from, by the way. From discipline. The kind of discipline that allows you to run farther than you thought you could or to play that song that you thought you couldn’t. It’s the same with relationships. And it’s one of the great joys of life.
6. Don’t be flaky.
When you say yes, mean it. When you say no, stick to it. Become the kind of person on whom people can rely in a world where nothing is reliable. If you can do this one thing, you will have a head start in all your relational and professional goals. More than that, people will respect you. And more than that, you will respect yourself.
Be honest with yourself though: are you more prone to be lazy or to work yourself to death? Some people need to figure out how to say no more, and some people need to learn how to say yes more. Which are you? To help you figure out which to say, write down 10 values or character traits that would describe the person you would like to be. When opportunities come, say yes or no based on this list, and stick to it.
Side note: Be honest, even if it hurts. Own your mistakes. Don’t make excuses even if you have really good ones. Taking ownership of your choices and your own life—even if you may not be completely at fault for them or how things have turned out—will make you a leader, something the world needs terribly.
7. Practice being kind and loving even to people you think don’t deserve it.
Being kind and loving to those who love you is easy. You don’t need God for that. But being kind and loving to those you disagree with, those you don’t even really like, is a skill that, more than anything else you can do, is like God. This is God’s default mode. Jesus says that if you can do this, even for a minute, you will have gotten as close to perfect as you will in this life. Why? Because this strange, otherworldly practice is the only thing that will ultimately keep the world from tearing itself apart. It turns out human beings are really good at turning people into things. At making them less than people. Loving them at their worst is a way of refusing to participate in this worst of sins.
This will not be easy. Because the truth is we don’t think Jesus knows what he is talking about. But those who have actually tried this have found he turns out to be right. That doesn’t mean that there might not be a price to pay for trying such a thing, because so much of the world is built on hate and people don’t like anyone messing with its foundations. But you have to decide exactly how much of your soul you want to keep. I suggest trying to keep it all. In my experience, there is usually a third way between the two options people usually present. It’s an option that makes you neither a coward nor a monster. I believe that if you look hard enough between the two, Jesus will be waiting for you there.
8. Don’t draw too much attention to yourself, good or bad.
If you find yourself having to tell others how great you are at something, or how awesome of a person you are, you’re probably neither. No one actually likes those stories, by the way, because that’s not been most of our experiences. The best stories are not the ones that make you out to be an angel or a god, but the ones that make you out to be a human, just like the rest of us. That doesn’t mean you should always talk bad about yourself either; beating yourself up in front of other people is not something anyone wants to be a part of. As mentioned above, a third way between these two is probably best. If you are good at something the right people will notice, and you won’t have to sell or convince them.
If you are tempted to think of yourself in an unhealthy way, remember that arrogance comes in two forms. “I’m too good” and “I’ll never be good enough” are the flip sides of the same coin. This is especially true in churches where some people think they don’t need to be saved from anything while others think they’ll never be good enough to be saved. Both are wrong. Both are arrogant.
If you are out there trying to be good, try doing it secretly; this is what God does all the time. This practice will let you in on the joy God feels for doing something just because it’s good and not because people will clap for you. There’s nothing more dangerous than that, by the way, so beware of doing good things for the wrong reasons. You might get a certificate, but you’ll have to look at yourself in the mirror and know the truth. Living like that also means that when the time comes (and it will) for you to stand up for something good and true and right, you won’t do it if it’s unpopular. We need you in those moments, so please be ready.
Stay tuned for next month’s conclusion of this series as we wrap up Jesus’s 12 rules for life with his thoughts on money, contemplation, and faith.