Updated: Aug 24
In 1968, Kent M. Keith was a nineteen year old sophomore at Harvard. That year he wrote the Paradoxical Commandments as a part of a booklet that he created for high school student leaders titled The Silent Revolution: Dynamic Leadership in the Student Council. Keith went on with his life, and little did he know that the Paradoxical Commandments had “gone viral.” In 1997, Keith learned that Mother Theresa had them on the wall of a children’s home in Calcutta where she served.
Mother Theresa, like millions of others, had the Paradoxical Commandments displayed as a poem under the title Anyway. After realizing what a widespread impact his writing had, Keith began speaking and writing on the Paradoxical Commandments. These commandments point us toward living a life of meaning and purpose. The Paradoxical Commandments which have blessed so many are worth repeating, so I have summarized them below with my thoughts on their application.
People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
God has perfect love for us and calls us into that kind of love relationship with Him and with other people. One of my favorite examples of this is the father of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). After squandering his inheritance and living foolishly, the prodigal son is received back by his father with open arms.
This moving scene is a vivid reminder of the kind of unconditional love we are to have. Because of our fallen nature, we are all foolish and self-centered. However, in Christ we can seek to live more wisely and full of unconditional love for others.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish and ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
Despite healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and ministering to people’s deepest needs, Jesus was falsely accused and ultimately put to death. We should not expect anything different. I think in our society there is a sick obsession of rooting for the downfall of people who are true to their faith. When we remember that we ultimately just have an audience of One, it is easier to remember to do as Psalm 37:3 says, “Trust in the Lord and do good.”
If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
Judas Iscariot was in the inner circle. He was one of the 12 disciples that Jesus took time to train, to teach, and to share his life. However, in the end, he betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. In spite of this terrible betrayal, Jesus stayed true to his course. Perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18), so we should be undeterred to succeed anyway and be alert to false friends and enemies in our journey.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
It is sobering when we realize that in a hundred years most everything we do in our lifetime will be forgotten. Our good works are not to bring us fame and attention. We are to do what is right because we serve a holy God and that is what He has called us to do. Even though most all we do will be forgotten, we are to do good anyway because that fulfills God’s ultimate purpose for our life.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
Most people don’t like confrontation. It is easier to dodge a controversial issue rather than speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). When we speak truth, we have to live with the consequences. Jesus spoke the truth about who he was and was crucified. Christians throughout history have faced martyrdom when they acknowledged the truth of their faith. However, by being honest and frank we convey our love for others and show ourselves to be people of courage and worthy of trust.
The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest ideas. Think big anyway.
Jesus was driven out of town by the people in his hometown after they heard his message (Luke 4:29). To them, he was the son of a carpenter, and they could not accept he was the Son of God. However, he pressed on and continued to share his life changing message with others. There will always be “basement people” who try to bring us down. However, we need to surround ourselves with “balcony people” who lift us up and think big anyway.
People favor underdogs, but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
Jesus’ harshest words were for the Pharisees, the religious elite. In his ministry, he was continually taking time to fellowship with the underdogs – the poor, the downtrodden, and the outcasts. In a parable, he showed us that when we care for those who are sick, needy, or in prison then we are really caring for Him (Matthew 25:31-46). As followers of Christ, we can be voices for the voiceless underdogs in our society.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
As the old saying goes, “you can’t take it with you!” The truth is that sooner or later we will lose everything. We see in the life of Job what it means to be stripped of all earthly treasures. As followers of Christ, we can “hold on loosely” to our possessions because we know we are just stewards of what he has given us. When we have this big picture perspective, we should have the confidence to build anyway.
People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.
As Christ was hanging on the cross after being mercilessly tortured and falsely accused, he said “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) He demonstrated for us that we don’t help others for praise and gratitude. We serve and care for others selflessly because that is what we have been shown and what is expected of us. In spite of ungratefulness and attack, we need to be willing to help people anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.
As a parent, I want to protect my children, but I know soon enough that they will realize that life is tough and not always fair. We learn from people in Scripture like Joseph that life can bring us many undeserved challenges. The key is for us to be people who persevere and keep our eyes on the ultimate prize.
As James 4:17 states, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” In the end, despite all of our faults, failings, and foolishness, it is eternally comforting to know that Christ came and died for us, ANYWAY.