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The Farthest Mile

The Farthest Mile

by Cecil Smith

Published in
The Christian Informer
February, 2002


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Last updated:
January 26, 2002.
 

FROM THE BEGINNING OF TIME, mankind has faced, battled and often been overcome with a tendency of comfort on a plane of average potential. Man seems to be prone to compare himself to other men, or to a certain average that he has in mind, and never seek to excel above this level. Of all of the things that Jesus sought to overcome, this particular battle is one of the hardest fought, and yet most often ignored, of all of the teachings of our Savior. Jesus has never been happy with his people unless they excelled above the average plane. The whole of scripture is dedicated to the task of informing man of God's Divine forbearance with people who fail to live up to their potential worth and Gods expectation of them, for they are content to live an average life and thus live below their full capacity. In other words, the Bible tells us a story of a people who fail to realize their potential in being faithful unto a most loving and faithful God. Because of this failure to recognize their full potential, men have often stooped to all types of sin and iniquity. Whenever one's true worth is hidden, he will never live up to his greatest level of potential for good. A good example of this thought can be found in Matthew 19:16 as the rich young ruler came to Jesus with the question, "What good thing shall I do, that I may inherit eternal life." Jesus answers this question in verse 17 as he states: "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." Jesus simply tells him in order to have life, keep the commandments. The young man wanted to know what little he needed to do for he goes on to ask, "Which?" Deep down inside, he really doesn't want to know the truth. Instead, he wants to justify himself on the basis of what he has already done. What Jesus does is to show him that to exist or live on the average plane, as he wants to do, he must keep the commandments. But as we see in verse 21, Jesus required of this young man more than he was willing to give. Jesus wanted this man to give his everything, his all-in-all, not just what he could get away with. He wanted more from this ruler than a mere surface obedience. Jesus wanted a full sacrifice.

This thought is illustrated and emphasized all throughout the teachings of Jesus Christ, especially in the great Sermon on the Mount, and shows just how extremely and radically different the teachings of Jesus truly are. In Matthew 5:46 Jesus asked his listeners what reward have ye for loving those who already love you. He goes on to show that even the publicans do the same. In the next verse he continues with this thought as he asks the great question, "What do ye more than others?" The point of these words is so incredible. Jesus expects more from his disciples than from the world. He expects us to love those who despise us, to salute not only our brethren, but our enemies as well. He requires of his people to live above average and thus show the world how great and powerful Christianity truly is.

The words of Jesus in Matthew 5:38-41 strike at the heart of three things that easily offend. The first is the personal insult, an injury to the body, an affront or indignity. Jesus said "whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." Such a blow would serve to inflame passions and cause someone to quickly react with rage and render justice immediately. How hard it is for us to so master our bodies as to be able to take such an insult and stand there and take it like a godly man. The average reaction would be to strike back, but Jesus requires more from his followers. As Jesus stated unto Peter in Mt. 26:52 "For all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword." The forgiving of an injury may very well prevent another, but the avenging of a blow will only bring about more blows. In Romans 12:14 we find that we are to "Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not." In verses 17-21 we learn that we are to "Recompense to no man evil for evil," "avenge not yourselves," "if thine enemy hunger, feed him," and "be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." The thought of these verses very seldom even passes through the mind of most people. To praise those who hurt or curse us seems almost impossible. To overcome evil with good seems preposterous. But we need to remember, we serve a master who exemplified fully these characteristics and we are to pattern our every move after him. Don't tell me we can't live this way for many have followed in the footsteps of Jesus in doing good to those who have despitefully used them. There are those who have lived through battles where loved ones were killed, those who have seen despicable acts committed, who not only arose from those injuries, but even became servants of those who did ill will toward them. Think of the missionary doctor whose splendid hospital was utterly destroyed by the Chinese nationalist army, who looked around at the wreck, grabbed his black bag and filled it with things he would need and followed the army, tending to the sick and wounded. As one man once so well stated, "Don't tell me we can't live this way. Tell me we won't. Tell me we don't. But don't tell me we can't, for this is exactly what Christ tells us to do and lovely people are living above the average all over the globe."

The second area of offence is the loss of a coat, an injury or blow to one's estate. In Matthew 5:40 Jesus says "if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also." The loss of a coat is an injury that to me is far easier to take than the personal insult. It is easier to swallow pride and give away a coat and even a cloke than to go to court and pay for lawyers and litigation to try and recover such a small item. There is no guarantee that you will win at law, but there is a guarantee in serving others, for you are living above the average.

The third area of offence is very interesting and challenging for it deals with pride while at the same time dealing with the loss of ones liberty. In Matthew 5:41 Jesus says, "whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain." The Jews were guilty in Christ day of teaching their disciples or students of the law that they were not to be pressed, as others might, by the king's officers, to travel upon the public service. But Jesus enforces another objective. This particular lesson is perhaps the hardest to take and apply to ones daily living, especially for the Jew of Jesus' day. In the days of Christ, the Jews were under Roman captivity and were forced to perform many menial tasks. Among these unfavorable tasks was the carrying of burdens. Roman law allowed any Roman Soldier or official who was returning with the spoils of war upon his back or was on other official business (possibly personal as well) to force any of the conquered people to carry their burden a single mile. Such a task was despicable for any Jew for the Romans were pagans or heathens and were held in great contempt. Many of the Jews would most likely have tried to hide from any Roman soldier who headed their way. One can only imagine the shock such individuals suffered from when Jesus came upon the scene teaching the exact opposite. Not only teaching these men to shoulder the burden and carry it a mile, but to go ahead and go an extra mile at their own expense.

This is so incredible to consider for it illustrates the very heart and core of what Christianity is all about. Christianity is not a mediocre religion. It is not about just doing enough to get by. It is not about the common average. It's about excelling above what is normally expected. Can you truly say that Christianity is filling your heart and soul with the desire to do more, to serve better, to be all you can possibly be while always trying to find a way to go the extra mile? Jesus knew well that as long as men are content to do only that which is demanded of them, they will never live up to their true worth or capabilities. It is only when people rise above the standard, when spontaneity takes the place of coercion, that service becomes rich and character noble. Consider the words of Paul in Romans 5:7-8 and the meaning they should bring to our lives. Paul pointed out that there are those who would willingly lay down their life or put their life on the line for a good man or a good friend. In this setting, consider this as the average and then consider how far above the average the love of God extends! Christ died, not for a good man or a righteous man, but for ungodly sinners. "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." In Philippians 2:8 we see our Savior's willingness to go the first mile as he "became obedient unto death" and then the second mile "even the death of the cross" "despising the shame," Hebrew 12:2. In light of this, Paul stated "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ," Philippians 2:5. Do you fulfill such readiness and willingness to put forth the extra mile in your life? In your daily activities as a child or an employee or servant, are you willing to put forth the extra effort and do more than just what is required? As a Christian, are you content with just doing enough to get by, just doing what is absolutely and positively required of you, that which you can't get around, or are you willing to go the second mile? I want you to consider which of the miles would be the farther of the two. Many would quickly argue the second for you would already be winded by that time. The truth is, the first mile is by far the hardest for it is the mile of coercion. The second is easy for it's the mile of voluntary service and can be traveled with a smile. One writer stated, "Well, it is not much to start with, O Roman of necessity, but you need not think that I am going to do only what you command and stop there. I intend to do my work in such a way that they who cried, 'what cruel limitations!' shall yet say, 'what a beautiful hedge!'" How does this translate into your life? Do you live in such a way that others would say of your profession of Christianity "what cruel limitations?" Do you gripe and complain about every sacrifice that is asked of you by Christ? Do the people around you get the impression that Christianity is a burden to you and that you just wish you didn't have to carry the burden of the cross? Do people see you in the way you assemble with the saints, sing songs of praise, give of your means, talk, dress, or normally conduct yourselves, and think that you only do this because you are forced? Or, do they say of your profession of Christ, "what a beautiful hedge!" What are you portraying to the world about your attitude of Christ?

I sincerely believe the majority of church problems, as well as the majority of problems within an individual's life, can be corrected if we would all learn to apply the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:38-41 into our lives. The reason why so many problems are found within the body of Christ can often be traced back to the fact that men want to be average and give some, not all. The reason why so many gripe and complain about the first mile and make such a desperate attempt to refuse it or show to all how great a burden it is, is because of their unwillingness to go the second mile. They are too caught up in their rights being infringed upon or their liberty being invaded to consider the full picture. Until man's willingness overflows his obligation, until that which is required is seen as a small segment of what he is willing to do, will man become what Jesus would call a profitable servant! The story is told of an old Greek who was once chosen as the town scavenger. This man took so seriously his work and filled the office with such high service that the office was thereafter held with great honor in all Greece. Yes, we can make the most mundane of things, a great honor. The Nile valley is fertile and fruitful, not because the Nile flows through it, but because the Nile overflows it. In order for the church to be fertile and fruitful it must not only flow in the banks, it must also overflow with love and the teaching of Christ. We must not only go the first mile, but the second, and then some. In light of what Jesus has done for us, what is our attitude toward each other? What is our attitude toward the lost? What is our attitude toward worship and obedience? Are we mediocre Christians? Are we average or normal Christians? Are we caught up in the bare minimums? Where are we as Christians? Should these terms even be used with the great name of Christian for it implies such superlatives as Super, Awesome and Incredible for a Christian is a child of the King? If we see ourselves as just ordinary or average, we are missing out.

A woman once approached a certain lawyer about a divorce. She could say nothing good about her husband for he wasn't the same as he once was. The lawyer told her to go home and wait upon him hand and foot for a month. She was to arise early in the morning and prepare his favorite food for breakfast, doll herself up and do everything to make him happy and then after thirty days, she was to leave him and file for the divorce. When she returned some thirty days later, the lawyer asked if she was ready to file the divorce papers. Her reply was, "Divorce! Why that man's the greatest man in all the world!" The lawyer's advice might be good for us to consider in the Christian life. The more we put into our Christianity, the more rewarding it will be. Those who receive nothing from living a faithful and pure life are simply not giving their everything. Much like the rich young ruler, they may be keeping the commandments, but they haven't given themselves to the Lord. Tell me we won't give Christ everything. Tell me we don't give Christ everything. But don't tell me we can't give Christ everything for this is exactly what Christ requires of us to do. The problem is, many have failed to take the Lord at his word and go the second mile, putting forth the extra effort, and thus are still plodding along on the farthest mile with no knowledge of the joy that awaits a life of full surrender! Do you want to enjoy Christ and the Church? Put your heart in your Christianity and do all you can, make any sacrifice you need to make for God and for your Godly influence, and you will see a tremendous change in your attitude as well as in your effectiveness in reaching others.

872 North Quigley Road
Marion, LA 71260
cesmith@bayou.com

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