RESPONSIBILITIES OF A RIGHTEOUS PERSON
For several weeks we have examined Jesus' sermon found in Matthew 5, 6, and 7. May I call your attention to a brief, insightful overview? First, Jesus presented in positive concepts a basic description of a righteous person. In that description, eight times he said, "Blessed are . . ." He did not present the description by saying, "Cursed are . . ." He presented basically what a righteous person did, not what a righteous person did not do.
Second, he emphasized that the righteousness of the person who followed him must go beyond the righteousness of the religious leaders of their society.
Third, he drew a distinct contrast between what they always had been taught and what they were now to understand. He contrasted "you have heard that it was said" with "I say to you."
Fourth, he revealed two current inadequacies in the religious life common to their society. Inadequacy one: religious acts done for wrong motives are inadequate. Inadequacy two: placing your life focus on physical well being and material security is inadequate.
Fifth, he concluded with five responsibilities.
This is the insight:
Jesus was not teaching them just to inform them: the objective was not merely knowledge.
Jesus was not teaching them just for them to understand proper contrasts: the objective was not merely understanding.
Jesus was not teaching them just for them to realize inadequacies: the objective was not merely realization.
Jesus was teaching them to enable them to accept responsibility: the objective was to lead them to the knowledge, the understanding, and the realizations that would allow them to accept responsibility.
As I stated last Sunday evening [i.e., 22 December 1996], chapter 7 concluded the sermon by declaring five responsibilities. Last Sunday evening we examined the first: the responsibility for self-evaluation.
- Responsibility # 2: the responsibility for spiritual discretion (Matthew 7:6).
- "Do not judge," responsibility #1, could have been interpreted to mean that they should indiscriminately share Jesus' teachings with all others.
- If they saw and understood, they should go out and share their understandings with everyone.
- "Be excited about what you understand and share it with absolutely everyone."
- "Don't go out to condemn anyone, but go out to tell them what you have learned."
- But immediately following the instruction not to judge, Jesus said something we would not expect: do not go out and share what you have learned with just anyone.
- Jesus' statement was not a statement of exclusion: he was not indicating that God is unconcerned about some people.
- His point: "Share my teachings with those who are receptive; do not try to force my teachings on those who are incapable of appreciating or understanding them."
- Jesus made his point by using dogs and pigs, both unclean animals to the Jews.
- Dogs were incapable of appreciating anything holy--in fact, they made no distinction between something holy and something unclean; they would eat either a holy thing or an unclean thing without hesitation.
- Sacrifices, such as the sin offering, were holy (Leviticus 6:24-30).
- A portion of the holy sacrifice was eaten by the priest.
- What the priest could not eat was to be burned (Leviticus 7:17).
- You did not provide the dogs opportunity to eat the priests' holy food--for they surely would.
- Pearls are totally without value to pigs, though they were extremely valuable to those people.
- Since pearls are not food to pigs, pigs will sniff at, then ignore a pearl, and then trample it into the muck of the pigpen.
- If you frustrate or disappoint the dog or the pig, it will turn on you and rip you if it can.
- Some people are incapable of understanding what is holy and what is spiritually of great value.
- They not only have no appreciation of what you try to share with them, but they easily become irritated and frustrated with you.
- Among the most violent enemies you will ever encounter are religious enemies. Some of the most horrible things are done in the name of religion.
- Jesus was talking about both ungodly and religious people who were incapable of appreciating his teachings.
- Responsibility # 3: the responsibility of initiative.
- When a person understands Jesus' teachings, that understanding makes him aware of how much he does not know, does not understand.
- I am certain that Jesus was not speaking of material pursuits when he instructed them to ask, to seek, to knock.
- "If you truly want to be a righteous person, if you truly want to understand the existence and relationship with God that I am revealing, it is your responsibility to ask God for wisdom/understanding, to pursue this new awareness built on new insights by knocking on God's door."
- It is the responsibility of faith to initiate, to act.
- If you hunger for righteousness, act.
- "You are evil; it is impossible for you to remove the reality of evil and the influence of evil from your lives."
- Even though evil will forever be the reality of your earthly existence, you still know how to respond to your children's requests for food by giving them food--by doing good.
- Is not the God of pure goodness much more capable and willing to respond to your requests when you ask, seek, and knock?
- Since you belong to the God of pure goodness, you do good by treating other people like you want to be treated.
- Responsibility # 4: the responsibility of direction.
- The easiest, simplest course of action to take in life is to move in the direction the crowd is moving.
- It is easy to go with the crowd in the ungodly world.
- It is easy to go with the unspiritual crowd in the religious world.
- The most difficult, challenging course to take is the "I am responsible for me and my decisions" direction.
- The crowd in both the ungodly world and the religious world typically moves in the direction of least resistance, the path more comfortably traveled.
- The path of personal responsibility requires personal knowledge, personal understanding, personal commitment, and personal decision.
- We have to be very careful to use this scripture in its context.
- It is much too easy to assign anything we personally dislike or disapprove of to the broad way.
- It is much too easy to assign any demand we personally think needs emphasis as an evidence that we are traveling the narrow way.
- Here the narrow way is the direction Jesus' teachings would take them.
- The broad way could be the direction of disinterest or the direction of the Pharisees.
- Just being hard to do does not make a direction the narrow way Jesus spoke of.
- The narrow way is the more difficult way because it requires thought, understanding, and heart response.
- The broad way may be any easy direction that leads me away from Jesus' teachings.
- Responsibility # 5: the responsibility to exercise caution.
- Jesus said it was their responsibility to exercise caution in identifying three sources of spiritual deceit:
- False prophets.
- Faulty fruit trees.
- Verbal declarations.
- False prophets and faulty fruit trees focus on your choice of influences.
- Be on guard against false prophets.
- If you use today's typical concept of false prophets, you will miss Jesus' point.
- The false prophet Jesus spoke of was identified in two ways.
- The false prophet deliberately created a fake spiritual appearance to hide his or her savagery and greed.
- A wolf is a cunning, deadly animal that stalks its prey.
- A false prophet made prey of other people.
- A wolf thinks only of himself, his desire of the moment, his appetite--in his greed, he destroys for his own purposes.
- Thus, the false prophet was to be identified by the way he used you, preyed upon you.
- It was not what he or she said that make him or her a false prophet.
- It was what he or she did, how he or she exploited and preyed upon others, that made him or her a false prophet.
- Be on guard against faulty fruit trees.
- Do not pattern your life and existence after the person who bears faulty fruit.
- Righteous people do not live their lives doing evil things.
- Righteous people do not look good but have horrible influences on others.
- Righteous people's lives do not produce the consequences of ungodliness.
- The Pharisees bore faulty fruit.
- Good trees produce good fruit, and rotten trees produce rotten fruit.
- When you choose those you will allow to spiritually influence you, do not merely examine their appearance or listen to their claims; examine the influence and the impact of their lives.
- Be on guard: distinguish between verbal declarations and commitment to the will of God.
- Verbal declarations will not place you in God's kingdom.
- You can honor Jesus with the right words and right titles.
- You can properly praise Jesus.
- You can do the priority religious deeds of the day.
- But, if in doing these things, you are not committed to the will of God, then Jesus does not know you and will not acknowledge you in the last day.
Was what Jesus shared in that sermon very important? That lesson did not deal with many of what you and I refer to as fundamentals. Since it did not focus on fundamentals, what he said was good, but was it essential?
Jesus said, "If you have heard me (meaning understood me) and will put into practice what I have told you, in so doing you build a life that will not collapse no matter what storms descend on your life. If you have heard me (meaning understood me), and you do not act on what I have shared, you can be assured that you are building a life that will collapse when the storms come."
Look at the lessons Jesus taught in Matthew 5, 6, and 7, and ask yourself, "What kind of life am I building?"
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
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