A young man came to Jesus one day and asked him an important question: “What must I do to have eternal life?”. What do I have to do to meet the minimum standards in order to live forever?
Peter came to Jesus with a different question but one that at its core was really the same. “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” How many times do I have to forgive in order to meet the minimum standard for God to be happy with me?
An expert in the law tried to test Jesus with a question concerning the greatest commandment. Out of the hundreds of commands in the Old Testament which one is the greatest? Which one is the one that we have to obey if we are going to be faithful? What is the minimum that we have to do if we are going to obey God’s law?
On another occasion an expert in the law when asked what the Scriptures had to say replied by quoting the same commandments: Love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus challenged him to obey those commandments and the man replied with the question: Who is my neighbor? If he was going to love his neighbor, he wanted to know to whom that injunction applied. Once again what were the minimum requirements?
Looking for the minimum
One of the problems with defining the Christian life as adherence to rules is that there is always the temptation to look for the minimum. What is the minimum amount of obedience required for me to be considered a good Christian?
I grew up in a Christian culture that was defined by rules. I remember having a discussion with my sister when I was in my teens about whether it was okay to sing a song that didn’t use a certain swear word but was designed to make you think of the word without the singer actually saying it. Was it swearing if you listened to the song and just thought the word or did one actually have to say the word for it to be wrong?
As a child I can remember having discussions with my mother over whether pretending to smoke candy cigarettes was the same thing as actually smoking. I knew that my whole Christian witness would be called into question if I smoked real cigarettes but surely candy ones were okay.
Real Christians had a devotional time every day but I was never quite sure what was the minimum requirements for it to be a true devotional time. How much time did I have to spend reading my Bible and praying for it to qualify as the real thing?
I was supposed to witness to people who weren’t Christians but how often did I have to do so in order to meet the minimum requirements?
That’s the problem with rules. It is so easy to be satisfied with the minimum.
Responding in love
My wife is amazing. She really is. We have been married for forty-seven years so I ought to know. (For those who just have to calculate her age, she would want me to tell you that I married her when she was three which means that she is fifty now)
She is constantly doing things to make my life better. I don’t think that a day goes by that she doesn’t do something to show that she loves me. She really is amazing.
In all of those forty-seven years I don’t think that she has even once wondered what was the minimum that she needed to do in order to be a good wife. She has always gone far beyond the minimum whatever that might be. She has lavished me with love. She could do a lot less and still be a good wife but she doesn’t think in those terms. She just thinks about my well being and does things that add to it.
In forty-seven years I don’t think I have ever heard her complain once.
If you were to ask her why she does it, I think that she would tell you that she loves me and that as a result she enjoys doing those things. Love never goes looking for the minimum. It just gives.
A response of love
When the young man came to Jesus asking about eternal life, Jesus told him to go, sell everything that he owned and follow him. Jesus asked for everything and the young man wasn’t willing to pay the price. He wanted to give the minimum and Jesus asked for everything.
Peter asked about forgiveness and Jesus told him that there was no end to the amount of forgiveness that we are called upon to give.
The ruler asked about which rules he had to obey and Jesus told him to love God with his whole being.
The scribe asked who was his neighbor and Jesus replied that it was anyone with a need whose need he was able to meet.
The Christian life is never about finding the minimum. It is all about love and love isn’t guided by minimums. Love is a call to give everything and when we have given everything to give a little more.
Let me close with a quote from Gary Nelson’s book Borderline Churches in which he talks about minimums.
What we are really asking is how far we have to go to be a disciple. They (minimums) help us sort how little has to be done to follow Jesus and have little to do with intimate and passionate discipleship. They serve to allow us to work out our discipleship at the minimal standard of disciplines and values while still feeling justified. (p. 125)
That is where to0 many Christians live their lives searching for the minimums but it is not where we are called to be. We are called to a commitment of love that gives everything and then gives a little more. The abundant life that Jesus promised to give is not experienced at the level of the minimums. It is only experienced when we take that leap of faith and give all that we have. That is when we really discover what Christian living is all about.