I AM NOT SAYING I’m an attorney. I mean, I didn’t go to law school. I did, however, watch a bunch of episodes of Law & Order. I even took notes. I walked into the courtroom ready to yell, “I object!” and to whisper, “Can I approach the bench, your honor?” with a knowing look.
Why? Because I was being sued and I was determined to win.
The accusation on the lawsuit wasn’t true, and I immediately became defensive. I was being falsely accused, and I was ready to stand up for my rights.
I called an attorney friend of mine and asked what he thought I should do. He said, “Oh, man, this is small claims court. You definitely want to just offer a settlement. You don’t want to have to spend a day in a courtroom defending yourself. Just offer a settlement and be done with it. That’s probably what they’re expecting anyway.”
I told him that was really good advice and thanked him for his counsel. I then hung up the phone and loudly proclaimed, “Not a chance!”
That’s when I started binge-watching Law & Order. I bought a briefcase and a plane ticket. I stepped in the courtroom. If only Dick Wolf* could see me now. I made my case, taking a stand for my rights. The judge declared I won. I didn’t have to pay anything. I walked out of the courtroom feeling pretty good about myself. No one was going to take advantage of me!
Looking back though . . . I’m not sure I did the right thing. I wonder if I did what Jesus would have done.
God’s Dream for Your Life
Jesus’s most famous sermon is called “The Sermon on the Mount.” Another title for it could be “God’s Dream for Your Life.” In it, Jesus teaches God’s plan for us. We’ve been looking at examples of how Jesus impacted one person at a time, but in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus gave some core teachings that laid the foundation for one at a time living. Specifically, Jesus raised the bar on how we are to treat others.
Jesus reframed how we are to look at and treat people who are difficult to love. Six times he referenced what people had previously been taught by saying, “You have heard that it was said.” That was a common rabbinical phrase typically used when a rabbi was going to reference a teaching from the Old Testament law, called the Torah. So, Jesus was pointing out commonly understood and widely accepted teachings from Scripture. It would be like me saying, “I know you were taught in school,” or “I know your parents may have said,” or “The church you grew up in may have believed . . .”
Jesus began with, “You have heard that it was said,” and everyone there would have nodded at his quote—then he surprised them with the next word, but. He then said, “But I tell you” and introduced a new standard of how to relate to others. He wasn’t contradicting the law; he was clarifying it and giving a deeper understanding of what God wanted for humankind when the law was given.
Let’s walk through some of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount teachings to help us better understand the one at a time life. But before we begin, I need to warn you that some of Jesus’s teachings here will be hard to receive. This was true then but even more so today.
What Jesus teaches contradicts the way most of us think. His teaching will challenge your innate perspective and cultural understanding when it comes to your relationships.
As you read this chapter, you will probably feel defensive at times. You will think of a person or situation in your life and begin to justify and rationalize. What Jesus asks will go against your instinct. Living the one at a time life may feel unnatural or uncomfortable at first. But Jesus makes it clear that if you align your life and relationships with his way of treating people, two things will happen.
First, you will be blessed. The Sermon on the Mount starts with a series of statements that begin with this promise: “Blessed are . . .” Everyone I know wants to live a blessed and happy life, but the path that leads there will often feel like it’s taking you in the opposite direction. What Jesus teaches may seem counterintuitive and the opposite of what you think will make you happy, but it will bless your life and the lives of those around you.
Second, you will make a difference. Everyone I know wants to be blessed and wants to make a difference in this world. In Matthew 5, Jesus tells his followers we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world (see vv. 13–14), then teaches us how to treat people in a way that shines a light and adds some salt.
In those days salt served a number of purposes. It was used to preserve food but also as we commonly use it today, to add flavor. I think we can all agree that some things are not good without some salt, like a baked potato or corn on the cob. No offense, but if you eat corn on the cob without salt, I don’t trust you. You’ve got to salt your cob. If you’re on a date with someone who orders corn on the cob, that’s a red flag, but if they don’t salt it, just get up and leave.
Treating people the way Jesus teaches will add salt, but when we don’t treat people this way, it’s like corn on the cob without salt—nobody is interested. If we apply his one at a time approach to the people in our lives, Jesus says it will make God look good, and people will notice and get an appetite for God (see v. 16).
Idleman, Kyle. 2022. One at a Time: The Unexpected Way God Wants to Use You to Change the World. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.
We have just released a new Bible Study based on Kyle Idleman’s book, One at a Time. These lessons are available on Amazon, as well as a part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.