By J.R. Miller
One of our Lord's remarkable exhortations is, "Whoever shall compel you to go one mile--go with him two." That is, do more than you are expected to do, be better than you are expected to be, go farther in love and service and self-denial than you are required to go.
The immediate reference is to the old hard days when most men had to serve despotic masters and often do compulsory service. For example, men would be required to go with invading soldiers to guide them through the country and carry their burdens. "If such forced service is demanded of you," said Jesus, "do not resist; go cheerfully; go even farther than you are compelled to go."
Of course, this is only an illustration of a principle. The Christian is to accept hardness patiently. He is not to watch the clock lest he may work a few minutes over-time. He is not to keep account of all the things he does for others, lest he may do more than he is required to do. Rather, when he is serving, he is to do more than strict duty demands. He is to go two miles instead of one. The religion of his day was not satisfactory to our Master. So he said to his disciples, "Except your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven."
We are Christ's true followers--not when we do no murder--that is going one mile--but when we keep our hearts free from all bitterness, all unkind feelings, all desire for revenge--that is going the second mile. The religion of the Pharisees said they must love their friends, but hate their enemies, giving as they had received--going only one short mile. But the friends of Jesus must go the second mile and love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. "What are you doing, more than others?" is the question which tests Christian life. Anybody can love those who love him--and be kind to those who are kind to him. You must do more--you must go two miles.
The principle applies to everything in life. A good many people want to go only one mile in consecration, in praying, in loving others, in doing God's will. But mere one-mile following of Christ is pitifully inadequate. What kind of a friend do you like--one who will go just the easy one mile with you, while the path is flowery, and the air full of sweet fragrances--and then drop off when the road gets steep and rough, and the winter winds begin to blow? Or do you like the friend who stays by you when it costs to be your friend, when he has to carry burdens for you, has almost to carry you, sometimes? Do you like best, the friend who goes only one short, easy mile with you--and then drops off--or the friend who goes the second mile? Was Orpah or Ruth the better friend to Naomi?
What kind of friends do you suppose Jesus Christ likes to have--those who go with him a little way while it is easy, and then drop out when the pinch comes; or those who go with him through pain, tears, and cost? those who go one mile--or those who go two? Some Christian people never have learned the deep joy of the Christian life, because they never have gone beneath the surface in loving Christ and in consecration to him. Our religion is too easy-going. We think we are fulfilling our duty if we attend church once a Sunday when the weather is clear, if we give a few dollars a week to God's cause, if we kneel morning and evening and say a little prayer. Yet these are only one-mile excursions in religion, and the blessing does not lie at the end of the little conventional mile--it lies farther on, at the end of the second mile.
Everything about Christian life is infinite. It has no marked boundary lines beyond which it may not reach, beyond which its conquests may not extend. There is no limit to the measure of Christian joy and peace. We should never be satisfied with any attainments we have already reached. Whatever we have achieved today--we should set our standard higher for tomorrow. An artist when asked which he considered his best picture, would answer: "My next."
We should always look well to that quality of Christian life which our Lord himself said is the unfailing hall-mark of discipleship. "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples--if you have love one to another." The measure of this love is given in the same paragraph--"even as I have loved you--so you must also love one another." "As I have loved you"--that is the second mile in loving others. The first mile is loving, pleasant, agreeable people, in a conventional way, so long as they love you, flatter you, and pamper your vanity. The second-mile Christian, loves people he does not naturally like--loves the unloveliest, and does good without measure, hoping for nothing in return. One-mile loving asks, "How often must I forgive my fellow-Christian when he has been unkind to me? Seven times?" Second-mile loving never asks any such question. It is patient, forbearing, forgiving seventy-seven times, even unto the uttermost. It keeps no account of how much or how often.
Think what patience Jesus had with his disciples, and then read, "As I have loved you." Think how he bore with their faults and failings, with their dullness and slowness, with their unbelief and unfaithfulness, with their denials and betrayals. "As I have loved you--so you also must love one another." How it shames our touchiness, our quick firing up when a brother seems to fail a little in courtesy, or speaks a little quickly! Was that the way Jesus loved his friends? Is that the way he loves us now? If it were, we never could be saved, we never could learn the lesson of loving; and if we never learn to love as Jesus loves, we cannot enter heaven, for heaven is only for those who have learned to love. Shall we not set as our standard--this love that goes the second mile?
We should go a second mile also in the submitting of our lives to the will of God. We say we take Jesus Christ as our Lord and Master. We do not begin to be Christians until we do. First, he is our Savior. Then comes surrender. "Follow me!" is his command.
Martin Luther's seal was a rose; in the rose a heart; in the heart a cross. The rose suggested fragrance and beauty. A Christian's life should be winsome. It should be sweet, pouring forth the perfume of love. The heart in the rose told that all true life is love-inspired. Then at the center of all, was the cross. That is the inspiration of it all. Until we have the cross of Christ in us, in our very heart, we can have neither fragrance nor beauty. We should never forget that only the self-sacrificing love of Christ in our hearts, can transform our lives. And we can have Christ in us only by yielding our lives to him. To resist the Spirit of Christ is to cut ourselves off from blessing.