THE RESPONSIBILITY OF
BEING A RIGHTEOUS PERSON
The most health conscious congregation that I, personally, have ever known is the congregation I worked with in Oxford, Mississippi. Over a period of several years some of the most involved members of the congregation had to have heart bypass surgery or angioplasty procedures. Most of these people were still in the prime of life and very active.
Having either one of the procedures resulted in radical changes in life style. With those changes, some of them began to preach the gospel of heart healthy eating. When we had a fellowship meal, they would prepare heart healthy dishes and mark these dishes with a distinctive sign that had a heart on it.
Now in the churches of Christ, we are against drinking, against smoking, against profanity, against gambling, and against numerous life styles. But we are very pro food. It is pretty much true that we will tolerate others speaking out against many life styles. But don't mess with our food. We may not drink and we may not smoke, but we eat. So don't mess with my eating.
And when we eat, we want "good" food, food that tastes wonderful, food that literally begs us to eat too much and then groan because we are too full. That is the measure of good food at a great fellowship--the number of people who talk about how miserable they are because they ate too much.
Well, needless to say, there were a number of members who did not view the gospel of heart healthy food kindly. Take the fat out, and you take the cherished taste out. Take the fat out, you get all you want of that food before you can over eat. And that takes all the fun out of eating. That means you have to start eating to live instead of living to eat. Where is the fun in that?
I share that to make this point. Even when we know something is good for us, even when we freely confess that it is in our best interest, we still don't like changes in our life styles--we don't even like changes in our understandings.
We are examining Jesus' presentation of revolutionary new concepts of righteousness in Matthew 5, 6, and 7. He has completely redefined what it meant to be righteous and completely redefined how righteousness is expressed in a person's life. The concepts Jesus shared stood in radical contrast to the common concepts promoted by the Pharisees.
- Thus far in this sermon:
- Jesus redefined the proper description of a righteous person.
- He contrasted righteous conduct with common, accepted religious conduct.
- He stressed that righteous motives were essential to righteous conduct.
- He rejected the materialistic focus of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
- Jesus concluded this sermon by emphasizing five responsibilities that a righteous person will accept.
- The responsibility of self-evaluation--accept ownership of your own problems.
- The responsibility of spiritual discretion--use wisdom in sharing your new understanding.
- The responsibility of initiative--God responds to seekers.
- The responsibility for choosing direction--the direction of our lives is a matter of choice.
- The responsibility for exercising caution--protection against being misled.
- We want to look at the responsibility of self-evaluation tonight.
- The responsibility of self-evaluation:
- Remember Jesus has already stated that their righteousness must surpass the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20).
- They could not "out deed" the Pharisees; you could not perform more religious deeds than they did.
- They could not "out study" the Pharisees; you could not know more information about the scriptures than they did.
- They could not "out religion" the Pharisees; you could not be more religious than they were.
- Then how could their righteousness be surpassed?
- One fundamental way to surpass their righteousness was to refuse to pass judgment or condemnation.
- The Pharisees had an "out there" religion.
- Their religious concepts were firmly based in scripture.
- They could give book, chapter, and verse for everything they did; they had proof texts for all their emphases and deductions.
- But the primary reason for having knowledge was to pass judgment on other people.
- You learned for the purpose of establishing the criteria of correctness.
- Then you measured other people by the criteria.
- By using the criteria, you determined what was wrong with them.
- Then you condemned them for their error.
- From the Pharisees' perspective, that was the purpose of knowledge, that was the way the you appropriately represented God.
- From their perspective of representing God by condemning others, at this point, Jesus' sermon seemed to be an open invitation to pass judgment on the Pharisees.
- In chapter five Jesus said in this sermon:
- Reconciliation takes precedence over worship; so shouldn't you condemn those who refuse to pursue reconciliation?
- Pornographic lust is adultery; so should you not condemn those who have pornographic eyes and hearts?
- Divorce produced adultery; so should you not condemn all who were divorced?
- Righteous people honor their word; so should you not condemn all who use their word to deceive and exploit others?
- Vengeance does not represent the will of God; so should you not condemn all those who seek to do harm to their enemies?
- In chapter six:
- Beware of doing righteous deeds for wrong motives; shouldn't you judge those who have wrong motives?
- Don't seek human praise through your benevolent deeds.
- Don't seek human praise through prayers.
- Don't seek human praise through fasting.
- Don't place your trust and sense of security in material possessions.
- Don't waste life by living in anxiety out of concern for the physical.
- Shouldn't you condemn people who do those things?
- But Jesus followed all of these revelations with a very clear instruction: don't judge.
- "I don't understand that. It doesn't make sense. Isn't our mission to straighten out the religious world and to gain control of an ungodly society? We really need to fight and condemn ungodliness in religion and evil in society. Don't we need to get God in control of religion and society?"
- That is a very complex issue that deals with many valid questions and many valid concepts.
- There is great spiritual danger in oversimplifying that issue; may I suggest some thoughts that we need to keep in our awareness.
- First, consider the view that "we" need to get God in control of religion and society. "We"?
- God more than takes care of Himself and His concerns both in religion and society.
- God is not dependent on us; God is taking care of His affairs.
- Second, God did not use political means to establish and advance Christianity in the first century.
- This is not a pro or a con statement about politics--I do not intend for it to be.
- I intend it only as an observation: political process is not the key to achieving spiritual objectives.
- If you are attracted to the up side of the possibilities, consider the downside: many of the militia movements use religious concerns as primary justification for their movement and actions; the Klan uses religious concerns as primary justification for advancing the concept of racial supremacy.
- Both seek to use a political process to achieve declared spiritual objectives.
- What Jesus is asking them to understand is very simple, so simple that we fail to see its power.
- "Do not judge, do not pass condemnation (as do the Pharisees); it is not the mission of righteousness to pass judgment."
- "God will judge you by the same criteria that you use to pass judgment on others."
- To me, that is a terrifying statement.
- That is a powerful reason for being compassionate.
- God will measure my heart, my motives, and my actions by the same yardstick that I use to measure other people's hearts, motives, and actions.
- It would have been natural and easy for the people listening to this sermon to say:
- "Yes, Jesus! Right on, Jesus. Stick it those self-righteous, pain-in-the-neck Pharisees and everybody who thinks and acts like them."
- "Right on! They do miss the point! I always knew something was wrong with them. They make life miserable for everybody."
- A judgmental focus uses knowledge to pick people apart.
- If something is obviously wrong in their lives, attack them.
- If you can't see anything wrong with them, become suspicious: they are too good. No one is that good. "We need to be cautious here!" Then the search for specks is on.
- The focus in judging:
- Is an "out there" focus rather than an "in here" focus (my heart, my mind, my life).
- Judging focuses my attention on "their mistakes" and totally distracts me from my problems and my needs.
- When someone condemns you, what is the first thing that jumps into your awareness? Their inconsistency--they see your problems but they are blind to their own.
- When we condemn others, those we condemn see our inconsistency.
- Jesus said condemning others (even if our condemnation is intended to correct them) when we are not identifying and addressing our own problems is hypocrisy.
- My primary concern, my primary responsibility in all spiritual knowledge and understanding is to discover and to address my own ungodliness and my own spiritual problems.
- Have you identified your logs in your eye? Have you accepted the responsibility to work on removing your logs?
It took me many years to understand an essential truth about helping people. I have always wanted to help people. I have always wanted to help people find the understandings that would enable them to escape their burdens and their guilt. I have always believed that God was the source of help for everyone, regardless of the nature of their problems. I have understood for many years that Jesus can effectively address any problem in human life no matter what that problem might be.
But wanting to help people is not enough. Knowing that God is the source of help is not enough. Knowing that Jesus can effectively address any spiritual need in human life is not enough.
You can help a person only if the person is receptive to your help. I have learned this about helping people.
Never will a person be open to help or teaching from someone who is condescending and derogatory.
Never will a person be open to help or teaching from a person who has no feeling or respect for them.
Rarely will a person be open to help or teaching from someone who seeks to force them into the glaring light of their failures and mistakes.
Rarely will a person be open to help or teaching from a know-it-all who has all the answers.
Rarely will a person be open to help or teaching from a person who is full of advice and always knows what is best.
From whom will a person more likely accept help and teaching? From a person who accepts ownership of and responsibility for his own problems. From a person who is obviously working on his own life, his own weakness, his own needs. From a person who cares. From a person who shares rather than judges, who leads to understanding rather than condemning. If I understand Jesus, the Christian who does this is the righteous person Jesus described in Matthew 5, 6, and 7.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
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Evening Sermon, 22 December 1996
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