Recently, I visited a very large city. At the end of one street was a store with the name “Essentially Me” emblazoned on its front.

My host and I discussed how the name of this store captured the essence of modern Western culture. It is all about “Me.” This is the message from popular culture, the entertainment industry and the media. Such phrases as “Look out for number one,” “Whoever dies with the most toys wins” and “What is in it for me?” seem to be the watchwords of contemporary culture and its devotees.

This attitude of putting one’s self at the center of everything runs contrary to the teachings of Jesus. In the Sermon on the Mount alone, we find several selfless commands for followers of Jesus:
–Reject “eye for an eye” responses to evil persons.
–Love your enemies.
–Pray for those who persecute you.
–Be perfect like the Heavenly Father.
–Do good deeds without seeking to be noticed and praised by others.
–Worship God without a desire to be applauded by others.
–Forgive those who injure you.
–Focus on piling up heavenly, not material, treasures.
–Serve God rather than stuff.
–Do not worry about stuff.
–Do not sit in judgment of others.
–God will provide. Ask Him for what you need.
–Travel the narrow, not the broad, way.
–Treat others like you want to be treated.
–Be alert to evil persons and their ways.
–Do the will of the Father.
–Build your life on the rock of God’s commands.

What a contrast. This is why living by the teachings of Jesus is never easy. It runs counter to our disposition as sinful, fallen persons. It runs counter to our culture, which encourages selfishness.

Sometimes I hear even preachers proclaiming an Essentially Me Gospel. It is obvious with the “Name It And Claim It” televangelists. It is also present in the word of those who preach an easy salvation that presents Jesus as Savior, but neglects to mention that he is also to be Lord.

The Sermon on the Mount was first spoken to persons who lived in a fractured and feuding society. They needed to build community. Selfishness and community are antithetical. Community calls for the kind of living described by the Golden Rule. The commandments of Jesus are the prescription for vital community life.

The early Christians realized that society as a whole would be slow to commit to living according to the teachings of Jesus. So, they worked at developing churches as places where Jesus would be Lord. They saw the church as a model of how true community might be realized in the world.

In time Christianity came to be accepted by the larger society, but it also became co-opted and polluted by the values of that society. After many centuries our Baptist fore-parents sought to restore patterns of the New Testament church. The mechanism for this was to create “covenanted” congregations. The membership would enter into a covenant aimed at creating community among the fellowship. The covenant was informed by the teachings of Jesus.

A few days later my host and I drove back down the street where the store, Essentially Me, stood. This time we inspected the building more closely. We learned that it was closed. The merchandise was gone. Essentially Me had gone bankrupt. What a parable.

Gary Farley is partner in the Center for Rural Church leadership, Carrollton, Ala.

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