Spirit of Grace Ministries
Spirit of Grace Ministries
-- Feeding Jesus' sheep
-- Equipping His servants
-- Proclaiming His Gospel

Beyond the Minimum

Extra mile

by Dennis Pollock

In nearly every company and place of business you will always find a few folks who seem determined to maintain their jobs by putting out a minimal amount of energy and effort. They will do what is required of them, but almost never anything more. They never arrive early and are always first out the door. You cannot accuse these folks of not doing their jobs. The are doing it - but they are determined that they will not do one iota more than what is absolutely necessary. If they are skillful enough, they may be able to hold onto their jobs in this way, but they will see few promotions and get few raises.

Sadly, in the church we often see the same type of people. These are folks who very much want to think of themselves as Christians, and yet are determined to expend the very least effort toward that status. They will perhaps attend church on most Sundays, but almost never at any other time. Prayer meetings, Bible studies, praise gatherings - all of these are shunned out of hand. Having fulfilled their Sunday morning obligation they have no intention of getting too fanatical in this business of church attendance. And when it comes to volunteering for any service or ministry connected with the church, or with any other Christian organization, they have zero interest. Concerning Christianity and the Lord’s service, “Sunday morning only” is their motto, and they vigorously hold to it with all their might. No use overdoing this church thing!

Doing the minimum is a killer in relationships. Even in our daily interactions this is evident. Consider the common greeting: “How’s it going?” This question / greeting is asked I suppose a million times every day in our nation. Most of the time we don’t mean it, and have no desire or expectation for any kind of detailed answer. Usually the other individual will say something like “doing good” and we both move on. No commitment, no risk, no time wasted. We feel good. We have done the minimum. We haven’t been rude, we haven’t ignored the person, and most importantly we haven’t wasted time or gotten ourselves involved in the life of somebody we don’t know or want to know.

On the other hand, we haven’t made a friend or expressed the least bit of love, concern, or interest either. It is amazing how attitudes change and a heightened level of relationship is established when one offers a few extra words, a story, an experience, or even a poorly expressed attempt at humor. Suddenly a humanizing effect is created, and two people start relating to one another at a higher, warmer, friendlier level. Usually, once one person takes conversation beyond the “howz it goin” level, the other reciprocates and real conversation starts. Relationships and conversations are killed by one and two word responses and minimally expressed answers, but brought to life when someone has the courage to open up and share something that is not absolutely necessary to share. Too often we are so worried about appearing cool and sophisticated that we hold back and say little. What we fail to realize is that friendliness is far more attractive than cool. Most people would much rather relate to a friendly non-cool person than a cool non-friendly one.

The Real Problem

Doing the minimum is always the result of a lack of love – love for one’s job, love for people, love for God. People who love are always seen as extravagant, lavish, and excessive by those who have never experienced that love. A young man who is in love will spend money he cannot afford, waste time he can’t spare, make a fool of himself in ways he never would in any other situation - all for the sake of a young lady who has captured his heart and created in him an obsession that cannot be explained reasonably or rationally. The idea of doing the bare minimum to win her heart has never entered his mind. Investing all that he has and everything that he is with the objective of winning her heart is as natural to him as breathing. He never has to remind himself to do these things or act this way. The love he feels comes with its own built-in motivation that constantly drives him on.

God’s Extravagant Love

OverflowAmazingly, we find that the Bible attributes just this sort of love to our great Creator. Again and again the Scriptures affirm that our God is lavish in His love for all of us, starting with the most famous of all the Bible verses, which tells us that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” In another place we read:

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

Notice the word “freely.” Paul is telling us that since God gave us His very best, His Son, in order to provide for our salvation, we can be sure that He will freely give us everything else we may need in this life and the next. Like the young man in love (but far more so) God is a passionate, loving, generous Father who wants the very best for His children. Of course there are times when our definition and God's definition of "best" differ sharply, but we can be sure that our God will always freely give us all that is necessary for our good and His glory. The Scriptures tell us:

  1. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5)
  2. Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. (1 Timothy 6:17)
  3. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. (1 Corinthians 2:12)

From these verses we see that God gives to His children generously, richly, and freely. Our Heavenly Father is not stingy! His goal is never to see if we can somehow get by on the least that He can provide. Like Paul we may go through our seasons of being abased and seasons of need, but they are for educational and growth purposes only. The Father’s ultimate goal is to so bless us with His goodness (sometimes material and always spiritual) that our thanksgiving toward Him abounds constantly. We can say, like Paul, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ!” (Ephesians 1:3).

Our Turn

It is not enough for us, however, to simply rejoice in the bountiful, lavish, extravagant love and generosity of our God in Christ Jesus. We are called to show that same love to our brothers and sisters in Christ, and indeed to all the world. When Jesus sent out the 12 disciples to preach and proclaim Him throughout Israel, He gave them the authority and power to cast out demons, heal the sick, and preach in the power of the Holy Spirit. He wanted them to know that they had received much, and they were to give much, and told them: “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8). Not “stingily you have received,” not “barely you have received,” not “hardly you have received,” not “slightly you have received,” not “minimally you have received,” but “freely you have received!”

Peter writes, “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3). Being fully equipped and having been freely given far more wisdom, anointing, power, joy, boldness, patience, and love than we even need, God then asks us to unreservedly give of ourselves and of all that He has given us to others. Like Mary of Bethany who broke her alabaster flask of oil costing a fortune, pouring it on her Lord, we are to lavishly spend ourselves on our God and those for whom Christ has died - the whole world, and especially those in the world to whom Christ has called us to minister.

Our Lord Jesus makes it plain that discipleship implies a willingness to go beyond the bare minimum. He says, “And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two” (Matthew 5:41). Jesus was referring to the Romans who ruled their nation. The Romans had a most unpopular law which stated that a soldier could force any local citizen to carry his equipment for one mile. Their packs and equipment could weigh in excess of fifty pounds, so this was no small thing. Most of the Jewish zealots refused to obey it, and encouraged all Jews to do the same. Jesus felt differently, and wanted those who followed Him to be willing not only to carry the soldiers’ equipment for the required one mile, but to offer to carry it a second mile. How this must have grated on the ears of the radicals and revolutionaries of Israel!

But Jesus had more than merely this Roman statute in mind. He was showing all Christians of all ages that the love He offers and expects us to practice is a wildly lavish, exorbitant, over-the-top kind of love. It is a love that is never content merely to meet the minimal requirements, but rather goes above and beyond the call of duty and necessity. It is God’s love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7).

Source of Love

There is bad news and good news about this kind of love to which we refer. The bad news is that it is impossible to manufacture it by sheer willpower, resolve, or determination. And while almost anybody can show flashes of it in certain situations (such as falling in love, or in the case of a man obsessed with his job) nobody can express this radical love over the course of a lifetime and in situations that go against the grain of his nature. We can fake it, we can pretend we have it, we can grimly attempt to do our duty and fulfill all our responsibilities, but it will never be that gushing, overflowing, “go-to-any-length” kind of love that gives of itself until there is nothing more to give.

The good news is that this love that moves us to go far beyond the minimum is a free gift given to us when we first trust in Jesus Christ. The Bible says, “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5). The Holy Spirit, then, is the source of that love, and our only hope of living the life which never settles for the bare minimum. People attempting to live the Christian life but who have never been born again and tasted the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, will be the most miserable of all. They truly “don’t have it in them” to fulfill Christ’s command to love. They are like an uncoordinated, un-athletic, slow-moving man trying to keep up with professional athletes at a training camp, or some screeching woman who cannot stay on pitch for five seconds trying out at a national singing competition.

Even our love for God is a gift God must give us by His Holy Spirit. Jesus tells us that we must love God with “all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.” But who can do this in his own ability? If God does not give us His Spirit we are helpless and hopeless, and cannot possibly love our Creator in this way. It is not only the love of God which is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit; it is also a love for God.

To those who feel little of this love, and have little motivation to go the extra mile for anyone beyond themselves; who have trudged through their sad, selfish, little lives always seeking the minimum: minimum responsibilities, minimum obligations, minimum sacrifices, minimum commitments, and minimum relationships, the answer is, as always, Jesus Christ and the daily filling of His Holy Spirit. Jesus is God’s maximum, and when He enters a life, little becomes much and minimum becomes maximum. Freely we have received and freely we shall give.


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