When Jesus calls people to discipleship in the gospels, he challenges them to give up things that stand between them and God. This often sounds harsh.
He tells the rich young ruler, “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me”(Luke 18:22). He calls Peter, Andrew, James, and John from their jobs as fishermen: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men”(Matt 4:19). Matthew also leaves behind his work as a tax collector to follow Jesus (Matt 9:9). As he gains popularity, Jesus warns the crowds to count the cost of following him. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple”(Luke 14:26). Discipleship will mean giving up things that matter to us and subordinating them to Jesus.
We tend to think that Christianity is a thing we can also do. We think of it like joining a club, where we attend meetings and support a cause while we spend most of our time pursuing other things. Or we think of it as a belief we add to others, like a political stance we adopt. Yet Jesus’ insistence that people give up their money, jobs, and relationships shows us that he wants a commitment that goes deeper. Jesus wants our hearts.
This means that we must be willing to allow him to control the hardest, dearest, and most ingrained parts of our lives. And when our commitment to Jesus comes into conflict with those things—threatening how we treat our family, or what we do with our money, or how committed we are to our work—then we must put Jesus first. We must allow Jesus to address and heal the parts of our life that are out of control and in rebellion.
So what’s your secret compartment? What is the part of your life that is most resistant to the rule of Jesus? Where is your greatest struggle? What part of your heart most hesitates to submit fully to Jesus? Is it a determination to be noticed and make a name for yourself? Is it a sexual desire that is out of control? Is it a refusal to forgive someone for things they have done to you? Is it an inability to control your speech? Is it a love of money and desire to be rich? Is it honesty—or anger—or addiction? If Jesus were to speak directly to you, this is the part of your life he would insist you give up.
Until we uncover our secret compartment and cede control of it over to Jesus, everything else we do in his name will be rather shallow. But once we have submitted that part to Jesus, everything else will seem simple in comparison.
Jesus encourages honesty in his disciples. In Jesus’ time, the prevailing practice is to use oaths to bolster credibility (I swear by the temple!) and occasionally to lie freely (I swore by the altar, not the gift on the altar, so I don’t have to keep it!). So he teaches his disciples not to take oaths at all. “Let what you say be simply, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil”(Matt 5:37). Followers of Jesus must develop a reputation for honesty so that our “yes” or “no” will be believed.
This means we will need to learn different ways to talk. Honesty must become so important to us that we consistently say only things that are true. I like to think of this as an honesty filter—a system that carefully guards our speech so that only honest words come out.
How do we develop an honesty filter?
1) Start with a commitment
We must begin with the personal conviction that honesty is God’s will for us. Telling the truth is more important than other benefits lying might bring. When I first began to devote serious attention to improving my honesty, I was shocked at how much lying, exaggeration, and innuendo is part of our regular conversations (even among Christians). I knew that I wanted to be different, even if that meant being less fun to talk to. So I made a commitment: “I won’t knowingly say anything untrue.”
2) Slow down and choose words carefully
James warns us: “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger”(James 1:19). It’s OK to take our time. Certain words imply more than we intend—or come closer to lines of impropriety—or make improper suggestions about others. Even tone of voice can convey meaning. The goal in our word choice is always accuracy. I find that the slower I speak, the more quickly I can correct inaccuracies and offer more precise wording. If we lack motivation, it helps to remember times when we’ve had to clean up the mess we have caused from speaking too quickly and saying things that are untrue.
3) Know your weaknesses
Where are your weaknesses? Peter’s mouth gets him into trouble because he is impulsive and speaks quickly. For some of us, people-pleasing means that we are tempted to compromise truth to impress others. We all like to look good. We can all use money. Sometimes when others gossip, we are strongly tempted to share things that are inappropriate or untrue. It is likely that we will find a correlation between our spiritual weaknesses and our honesty problems. When these weaknesses are in play, we must be on our guard. Strong temptations often make us compromise first in our honesty.
4) Scan your speech
An honesty filter will require that we listen carefully to what we are saying as we are saying it. Do we mean what we are saying? God blesses the one who “speaks truth in his heart”(Psalm 15:2), which means an inner honesty that comes out in speech. How do our words sound to others? Are we certain of these details? Are these characterizations fair? Do we really know these things or just suspect them? Preaching weekly has taught me that I can listen to myself differently when I know that I am “on the record,” where Christians will be carefully listening to my word choice. I am always scanning my speech to see how others (and God) will hear what I am saying. But are we ever truly “off the record” with regard to honesty?
5) Correct mistakes
We will slip up. Honesty filters hinge on our willingness to correct mistakes that we make, even small inaccuracies. There are judgment calls here. Some mistakes will be inadvertent or harmless, while others will be serious deceptions. I encourage correcting even unintentional inaccuracies. It is great practice for thinking carefully about my “yes” or “no.” By "correcting mistakes," I mean telling the person we initially lied to that what we said was incorrect or deceptive. The goal here is to know our own hearts and admit when there was something sinister behind our choices. The blessing is that the embarrassment of correcting such mistakes will reinforce our need for a filter.
Honesty filters require patience to develop as we learn a new pattern for something we have done for a long time. It gets easier. Ask God to bless you as you pursue his will for your honesty.
Jesus urges his disciples to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you”(Luke 6:27). This teaching is not hard to grasp; it is hard to live.
Jesus is teaching us to respond to the hostility of others with goodwill. He is not addressing self-defense in combat situations or home invasions, but ordinary times in life when people hurt and wrong us. We “love” and “do good” and “bless”(asking God to do good) and “pray for” those who harm us, turning the other cheek, offering more than they demand, and giving when they ask (Luke 6:27-31).
So what happens when I pray for my enemies?
I change my view of them. Talking to God about my enemies helps me to think about them with his perspective. They are his children too. He loves them too. When I ask God to bless and help them, it reminds me that there is more to a person than just what they have done to me. They have gifts, joys and sorrows, and scars just like me. When I ask God to do good to them, I see them differently.
I absorb personal injustice as an act of faith. Praying for my enemies means that I will not seek vengeance myself. “To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either”(Luke 6:29). Sometimes I will not get justice. That’s OK! Jesus does not seem concerned with this at all. Paul reminds us that God will avenge the wrongs that must be dealt with (Rom 12:19) and asks a probing question: “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?”(1 Cor 6:7). When I learn to absorb unfairness without vengeance, I grow.
I love in a higher way. “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them”(Luke 6:32). Are my relationships truly this mercenary? Am I so weak that I can only love people who are nice to me all the time?
I overcome evil with good. When others harm me, I can try to harm them back. This sets off a cycle of increasing retribution (think Hatfields and McCoys or gang wars). Yet when I pray for my enemies, I resolve that their evil will end with me. I will not allow their evil to cause me to do evil. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”(Rom 12:21).
I get grace practice. Grace is an unearned gift. My enemies don’t deserve my prayers. Those who hurt me don’t deserve my love. Yet when I pray for my enemies, I am trained in the discipline of grace. “It is more blessed to give than to receive”(Acts 20:35).
I become more like God. “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful”(Luke 6:35-36). God is kind when people are ungrateful. When I am kind to the ungrateful, I am a “(son) of the Most High.”
When others harm and oppose us, we usually think that they are the problem. Yet Jesus is showing us that such occasions are tremendous opportunities for our spiritual development.
Pray for your enemies—and see what happens!
Jesus doesn’t want his disciples to compare themselves to other people.
When this happens in his presence, he criticizes it. The apostles argue frequently about which of them is the greatest—and Jesus consistently rebukes them (Matt 18:1-4, Mark 9:33-35, Luke 22:24-27).
When he tells stories, sometimes the characters get frustrated by comparisons to others. Jesus challenges the mindset that all people have to be exactly equal. Speaking for God, he says, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong…Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?”(Matt 20:13, 15).
But his clearest challenge to the comparison mentality is Peter. After Jesus’ resurrection, he informs Peter that Peter will die a martyr’s death. Disappointed and frustrated, Peter turns to John and asks Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?”(John 21:21). Shouldn’t he have to die in the same way? “Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!’”(John 21:22). It’s none of your business, Peter! If I want John to live forever, it doesn’t change what I’ve told you! Quit comparing!
Comparisons are dangerous because they lead either to jealousy and resentment (if I feel I’m not as good as someone else) or condescension (if I feel I’m better). There is no good outcome. Personally, I have found that both types of comparisons come out of my mouth as criticism—tearing down out of jealousy or tearing down to confirm my superiority.
So I offer a helpful tip to overcome comparisons: Sincerely praise the people you are tempted to criticize. What do they do well? Where do they excel? What do you like about them? Talk about it to them. Talk about them (in this positive way) to others. If comparison is necessary in such discussions, it can be positive. I want to be more like them!
Whom do you need to praise?