This “Application” column goes with the Study for Jan. 3, 2021: Backward Blessings (Matthew 5:1-16)
In an episode of the TV show Seinfeld, Jerry’s friend George sits in the coffee shop bemoaning his bad luck. He says, “My life is the opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I have, in every aspect of life . . . it’s all been wrong.”
Jerry’s advice? “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.”
George decides, “Yes, I will do the opposite. I used to sit here and do nothing, and regret it for the rest of the day, so now I will do the opposite!” Instead of his usual tuna salad on toast, he orders chicken salad on rye. Instead of shying away from a pretty woman, he initiates a conversation. George’s social life improves and he gets promoted at work when he does the opposite of his natural instincts.
Jesus’ teaching was unprecedented in the first century, and it still sounds unconventional and uncomfortable today. At times his ideas seem contrary to common sense (the opposite of what seems natural or obvious), but on deeper reflection they prove true.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus confronts his disciples with counterintuitive truth and challenging questions. What does God’s kingdom rule look like in real life? What will change if we invite him to take charge of our attitudes, priorities, money, and relationships? Don’t murder—that’s obvious enough. But do you ever hate others and wish they were dead? More than merely avoiding the physical act of adultery, how will you cure a lustful, unfaithful heart? Should you follow your instincts and hit back at your haters? No, do the opposite and love your enemies.
The Sermon on the Mount isn’t a list of rules that make you a Christian. It’s a description of what the Lord makes out of you when you surrender your life to him. When someone asked Olympic athlete Bob Mathias how he managed to leap so high, he answered, “Throw your heart over the bar, and your body will follow.” If you study the Sermon on the Mount as a list of religious rules, you will end up frustrated. Instead, the sermon challenges us to surrender our hearts to the heavenly Father who can transform us from the inside out.
At first glance, the Beatitudes sound like the opposite of a blessed life. How can it be a blessing to mourn or to endure persecution? But in the upside-down kingdom where God rules, brokenness leads to blessedness and the poor in spirit discover heaven’s riches. God turns zeroes into heroes, the darkness of mourning into the morning of hope. In his kingdom, meekness isn’t weakness, and the spiritually famished enjoy a feast where right relationships are always on the menu. God’s mercy multiplies, his Spirit purifies, his peace unifies, and persecution intensifies the testimony of his faithful followers.
Remember when you were a kid on a playground swing? You had to pull back to propel yourself forward. It’s counterintuitive, but according to Jesus, those who pull back on self and seek God first find true blessing, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Personal Challenge: Do a spiritual inventory as this new year begins. What have you been doing your way that you need to start doing God’s way?