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When Winning Is Not Enough—Part I

Matthew chapters 5–7 provide us with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Can we learn anything about living in the modern world from the Sermon on the Mount? Could it be that our best advice for living in these desperate days with confidence and joy is embedded in the secret of the Sermon on the Mount? I believe the answer to these important questions is a resounding “yes.” We live in a day when winning is not enough. Jesus built His famous ethical teaching on that truth. I think that is why the Sermon on the Mount is so controversial. Some Christians don’t even believe it is for today. Everybody wants to win.  

Global Nuclear War in October of 1962?

There have been several studies on the effects of a global nuclear war. Why have there been such studies? Because there is a high likelihood that nuclear war will happen. I hope we are all aware of that. It’s part of winning, at least that’s what some misguided individuals think. 

October 27, 1962 was perhaps the most dangerous day in human history. That morning a U2-F reconnaissance aircraft was shot down by the Soviets over Cuba. Everyone was on edge. What was next?

That very afternoon a Soviet sub, the B-59, was detected trying to break the blockade that the U.S. Navy had established around Cuba. The destroyer, USS Beale, dropped practice depth charges in an attempt to make the sub surface. The captain, Valentin Savitsky, thought his submarine was under attack and gave orders to prepare the sub’s  nuclear torpedo for launch at the USS Randolph, an American aircraft carrier. By Soviet protocol, all three officers aboard the B-59 had to agree to a launch. Vasili Arkhipov, the sub’s second-in-command, disagreed with the two other officers. He convinced the captain to surface and to await further orders from Moscow. Officer Arkhipov knew that winning is not enough

About ten years later, I pastored a church in the Florida Keys, located about 90 miles from Havana. People in the congregation remembered the Cuban missile crisis. They saw the military conveys head south on Highway 1 to Key West. They saw the trucks loaded with soldiers and  missiles. Everyone was nervous. Two years earlier, in October 1960, Nikita Khrushchev had angrily taken his shoe off and pounded on the table at the U.N. People remembered: “We don’t even have basements. What will happen to us?” One old saint of God told me later that she thought this was Armageddon.

Global Nuclear War in 2022?

And now there is a new bully on the block: China. Four times in the last 13 months Biden has made a public pledge to defend Taiwan, breaking with four decades of “strategic ambiguity” regarding our military stance in the defense of Taiwan. China has taken note of that and has recently rattled its nuclear sabers.  

All the studies report that the effects of a nuclear war would far exceed the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. A nuclear detonation in the atmosphere produces intense heat. Homes, forests, farms, and people would be incinerated. Radiation would alter the human genome. There would be a nuclear winter. No one would be talking about global warming. There would be severe global cooling caused by the ashes, dust, and soot blocking out the sun’s rays. In addition to all the other effects, there would be worldwide famine. Nothing would grow in this nuclear winter. So, who would instigate a nuclear war? Is anyone a likely candidate?

The war in Ukraine has been very costly for Russia. Russia is not doing well. Mr. Putin is desperate. He sees himself as the “Savior of Mother Russia” protecting the homeland from Western degeneracy and sweeping radical changes like same-sex “marriage” and transgender “rights,” all coming from America and our NATO allies.

 When Putin became president, Boris Yeltsin said, “Vladimir, take care of Mother Russia.” But Vladimir is not taking very good care of Mother Russia. Thousands of Russian soldiers have died. Their parents are unhappy. The economic sanctions imposed on Russia are affecting everyone. Why is Russia suffering one setback after another? Because of the weapons and military technology that the West has been sending to the Ukrainians. The war is looking more and more like a military conflict between Russia and the United States.

Putin and some of his generals believe that Russia must not lose face. They are not doing very well on the ground. Their tanks are being devastated. Their military trucks are equipped with tires that should have been retired long ago. Russia has one last hope: It’s impressive nuclear arsenal and delivery systems that are the best in the world. Putin needs to read Jesus. He would learn that winning is not enough.

Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7)

Jesus did not give the Sermon on the Mount to heads of states and top military strategists in warring nations. He gave it to people like you and me. Even in human relationships—between husbands and wives, employers and employees, Democrats and Republicans—the lesson is still the same. We all face situations in which winning is not enough.

There are some Christians—perhaps many more who won’t admit it—who believe that the Sermon on the Mount is not for us today. What Jesus teaches  is for a future time of relative peace on earth. “Turning the other cheek,” they say, “will certainly not work in a rough and tumble world.” 

But is Jesus giving instructions for living in an ideal world? What about Matthew 5:10: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake”? Obviously, the Lord is speaking about times like today. And what about the words, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake” (Matt. 5:11)?

Personally, I have trouble agreeing with some of the brethren that the words of Jesus in three whole, marvelous chapters are not really for me, nor for saints living today. Are we missing something in the Sermon on the Mount? Are we being convicted by the Spirit of God and quenching His blessed work because we think the standards that Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, are above and beyond us?

The Same Jesus

Christians are sometimes confused by the Sermon on the Mount. Can anyone follow its teachings in a dog-eat-dog world?

Remember—the same Jesus who said that we are to “turn the other cheek” also said go and buy a sword (Luke 22:36). The same Jesus who said He was “gentle” (Matt. 11:29) drove the money changers out of the temple on two separate occasions (John 2:15; Matt. 21:12–3). 

Jesus warned that calling someone a fool puts that person in jeopardy of hellfire, but in Matthew 23:17 Jesus called Israel’s religious leaders “blind fools.” Jesus spoke about gouging out your eye rather than harboring lust in your heart, but we can’t miss the fact that no one in the New Testament took Him literally. It never became a practice in the early church. No comments were made about it in the epistles. It was seen as a metaphor of sin’s seriousness, not a directive to follow.

Barking Dogs and Toxic People

Noah Hutchings, who led Southwest Radio Church for more than half a century, came from southeast Oklahoma. He had several sayings that would make you chuckle. One that fits the purpose of this article: “Don’t throw stones at every barking dog.” I ride a bicycle and meet a lot of barking dogs. If I stopped to throw stones, I wouldn’t do much riding.

Jesus was not like  some of our modern preacher-boy heroes who are good at barnstorming and advance bill their meetings, who skillfully craft amazing stories that tell of their victories.  It’s amazing to me how many times Jesus dealt with difficult situations by just walking away. Just to cite one example, Mathew 12:14–15: “Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him. But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence.”

The Pharisees were a good example of toxic people. Jesus was in ministry for about three years. I’ve been in ministry for more than fifty. I learn so much from Him. We both have met many toxic people.

You and I will always meet toxic people. Should we go to war over every comment they make? Should we call them out from the pulpit, in the Sunday school classroom, and in the parking lot?

If you are not careful, toxic people will bait you, challenge you, drive you to the edge—but only if you let them. There are certain people who drain us, demean us, and distract us. Long after they are gone we are still struggling with them in our minds, and trying to flush their words from our hearts. They can keep us awake, steal our joy, and shatter our peace. If we let them, they can make us weaker spiritually, and fill us with feelings of guilt. We even end up feeling that we have been  failures. Their shadows invade our private times of prayer, and even our times of public praise and worship.

Yes, the world is on the brink of disaster. We’ve had the COVID pandemic. The global warming alarmists tell us the polar ice caps are melting and coastal cities will soon be underwater. Daddy Kim in North Korea will nuke us, and so on. But, perhaps, more likely for many, your neighbor will sue you,  you will face a church split, your spouse might walk out on you, and your teenager will end up in jail—or perhaps you will ride the golden street of success. Whatever happens, we need to remember that winning is not enough.

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Larry Spargimino

Dr. Larry Spargimino is co-host of the SWRC broadcast and joined the ministry in 1998. Larry researches and writes books and articles for the ministry, assists on tours, and helps answer listeners' theological questions when they call the ministry. Larry holds a doctorate from Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and pastors a local church.

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