Kingdom Righteousness

In Matthew 4:23, we see Jesus teaching about the kingdom while healing those with diseases and disabilities. Great multitudes follow him to a mount where he begins to deliver a lesson we commonly call the Sermon on the Mount. Back in Matthew 4:23, the apostle calls this the gospel of the kingdom. One of the topics of this lesson is one of righteousness. What does it mean to live righteously in Jesus’ kingdom?

A Righteous Character

This topic begins in the Beatitudes when Jesus says, in verses 6 and 10:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied…Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Around this statement, he is speaking of the character of the kingdom’s citizens. He goes on to speak of those citizens being lights onto the world, seasoning for the world. We are to enhance the lives of those around us with the quality of our character, and we are to illuminate the path to Jesus for all around us. When we put on Christ, we put on a hunger for righteousness. We put on humility, meekness, mercy. We become salt. We become light. Christianity is not merely about doing something new; it is about being something new.

Righteous As Christ Would Have

What is kingdom righteousness? We are familiar with the term “self-righteous,” a self-made standard of religiosity and righteousness we can use to look down upon others. It is comparative and self-assured. That is not righteous as Christ would have us. To illustrate this, compares the righteousness of his followers to that of the Pharisees in Matthew 5:20. Kingdom righteousness is not self-made. It demands denial of self. It demands a reverence for every command of God. It demands our hearts.

Hebrews 5:8 explains Jesus’ obedience in His suffering. Philippians 2:8 describes Jesus as obedient to the point of death. In Matthew 5:19, Jesus reminds us that, if we are to be citizens of the kingdom, we need to be as reverent of God’s will. This reverence begins in our hearts, and our actions and words reflect the contents of that heart. Our righteousness is not an outward appearance. It is an inward commitment.

In Matthew 5:20, Jesus reminds us of the scribes and Pharisees, for whom religion was an outward show. In Matthew 15:8 and Matthew 23:25-28, Jesus draws a contrast between inward and outward appearances. We can make a good show of religious living while being spiritually dead inside. If we are inwardly righteous, however, we will not be able to help but live righteously – not self righteously but righteous in Christ’s way.

Conclusion

Matthew 5:6 blesses those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. We hunger for so many distractions and priorities in this life. Is righteousness one of these priorities? Is it foremost among our desires? We are sensitive to the stomach-hunger of our bodies. We should be so sensitive to our God-starved spirits. He fills a void in our lives that nothing else can satisfy.

In order to enter God’s kingdom, we have to want it. In Matthew 6:33, Jesus calls on us to seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness before all else. It begins with our character. It begins with us being kingdom righteous.

lesson by Tim Smelser

The Pharisee & the Publican

And he spake also this parable unto certain who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and set all others at nought:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.

The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank thee, that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I get.’

But the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote his breast, saying, ‘God, be thou merciful to me a sinner.’

I say unto you, This man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled; but he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14).

There is a lot of danger in believing that one is righteous. Jesus spent much of His time in His ministry exhorting people to repent and to serve God but yet never to trust in their own righteousness (cf. Matthew 4:23). Jesus provides such a contrast with the Pharisee and the publican, or tax collector, in Luke 18:9-14.

The Pharisee, in this parable, stands and prays with himself. There is no real petition to God in his comments – instead, it is a self-congratulatory note devoid of any compassion or mercy. It exudes arrogance and judgmentalism. All he can do is boast in the little he does accomplish and that he is not like others. The Pharisee represents the extreme example of the self-righteous, sanctimonious, self-assured, superficial religious person. Unfortunately, both the church and society have never lacked such persons.

While the example is extreme, it is not without merit. The Pharisees to whom the man born blind testifies dare to declare to him that he was “born in sins,” and then ask if he teaches them (John 9:34). Such a question is only asked of people who believe, in some way or another, that they are above sin, or that their righteousness is unquestionable. Tragically, they are self-deceived, and will receive the due reward for their deception (cf. Galatians 6:1-4, Matthew 7:21-23).

Then we have the publican, or tax-collector, “chiefest of sinners” in the eyes of society. They are Jews collaborating with the pagan oppressing power, quite often extorting the people and committing injustice upon injustice. Yet, in this instance, such a man is aware of his utter sinfulness. He is too ashamed to even raise his eyes to God, imploring God to have mercy upon him. He confesses that he is a sinner. And so we have the ultimate contrast with the self-righteous Pharisee: the thoroughly repentant tax collector, chiefest of sinners.

The conclusion to the matter, evident perhaps to us, is astounding in its scope. The “good person,” the “righteous” Pharisee goes home without justification. Instead, the publican, chiefest of sinners, despised by all, goes home justified. This is because God is not swayed by appearances. The exterior of righteousness and sanctimony is never sufficient. Even in the old covenant it was necessary to walk humbly before God, utterly dependent on Him, having nothing in which to glory according to the flesh (cf. Micah 6:8)!

It is easy for us to read this story and believe ourselves to be the publican, willing to admit our sin and to change our ways, and thus we should be (James 4:10, 1 John 1:9). We must examine ourselves, however, because there are times in which we play the role of the Pharisee – we get puffed up by our knowledge, our attempt to live the Christian life, or our supposed maturity beyond our brethren and others (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:1, Hebrews 5:14, 1 Peter 1:15-16). We get into the mode where we feel superior to others and almost smug in our relationship with God. We must banish these impulses and attitudes from within us!

We have all come across street preachers proudly berating audiences and making a mockery of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus, and they may remind us of this passage. It is lamentable that the message of our most merciful and compassionate Lord gets thrown around so casually by the arrogant and sanctimonious. But let us keep in mind that it is easy for ourselves to fall into the same trap, in thought if not in word and deed (Galatians 6:2-4). We must always remember that at one point we all resembled the publican, and we must make it our goal to repent and to serve God in His Kingdom while keeping in mind the way we were, what God needed to do in order to secure our redemption, and therefore our need to relate to our fellow man and point him also to the salvation that comes in Jesus Christ (Titus 3:3-8). This is a tall order indeed, but let us remember that those who humble themselves are the ones who will receive the final exaltation, and seek holiness while maintaining the heart of the publican in Luke 18!

lesson by Ethan R. Longhenry

Seeing Ourselves As God Sees Us

In I Thessalonians 5:21, Paul tells the saints of Thessalonica that they should test or prove all things. Having tested all things, they should tenaciously cling to all good things while abstaining from evil. We do this with choosing a job, a house, a car, even what we eat. We come to conclusions based on an examination process. We undergo similar scrutiny in our reputation and self-esteem – what others think of us and what we think of ourselves. In both these metrics, there may be some bias one way or another, but God sees our character, the person we are when no one else is looking.

To see what God sees, we have to honestly look inward. We cannot always rely on our opinions of ourselves, and we cannot always rely on the assessment of others. To truly examine one’s self, to test ourselves in the way of I Thessalonians 5, is to see ourselves as God sees us. When we see ourselves the way God sees us, when we examine our true character, we are more capable of growing closer to our God.

A Righteous Standard

It’s possible to divide the Old Testament into a massive list of right and wrong. In contrast, the New Testament serves as a set of guidelines and principles guiding our moral character. It divides righteousness from unrighteousness. The New Testament creates a picture of the type of person a Christian should be, and it is ours to apply those principles in our own lives.

To get a picture of how God would like to see us, we’ll start in James 1:27 where the disciple defines pure religion as behaving charitably and keeping ourselves unspotted by the world. I Timothy 5:22 records Paul writing that we should not be quick to align ourselves with those who could lead us to sin, and I Peter 1:14 admonishes to be holy in all manners of life. In Romans 12:1-2, Paul writes we should be transformed to a new mind, and Philippians 4:8 calls on us to set our minds things of purity and peace. The New Testament paints a picture of those who comes out of the world to keep themselves clean and pure, whose character is uncorrupted.

II Peter 2:20-22 warns against knowing the word of righteousness and turning away from it. I Corinthians 15:33 warn against our associations, and I Peter 2:11 encourages us to avoid worldly desires. I Corinthians 10:12 challenges us to self-examine, lest we fall without knowing. These passages leave us with a sense of responsibility for what we should do with the ability God has given us, the ability to know His will, to know ourselves, and to conform to His word.

A Work in Progress

In Philippians 2:12, Paul encourages us to work. The Christian life is a work in progress. It is never complete. Sometimes there are setbacks. Sometimes the unexpected occurs, but Paul reminds us to work on our own salvation. It’s so much easier to point out your own challenges than my own, to wish for you to carry me with you to salvation, but no one can fulfill our Christian work but ourselves. The end of this effort, though, is salvation – a home in Heaven.

What should our work look like? II Corinthians 5:17 says our work begins with a change. This means new speech, new outlook, new priorities, now attitude. This means keeping ourselves pure from the influence of sin. Our work is a transformation and a separation from the world. I Corinthians 6:17 calls on us to come out from these influences, cleansing ourselves in the hope of God’s promises. Our character should reflect righteousness in all we say and do, and Galatians 6:9-10 encourages us to endure this work, not growing weary in our spiritual conduct, and doing good to all. Paul, in Colossians 3:1, encourages us to seek things above.

Conclusion

We have things in this life that tie up our time and resources, that interest us, or that distract us. Other times, this life can can discourage us in its unfairness or lack of justice. When our emphasis is on the world, there is much to drag us away from God. We know the rewards of reaching toward and obtaining personal goals. We have days where we see that the work we have put into an effort is worth it. God promises that such a day will come for our spiritual efforts. In I John, John uses the phrase, “we know,” roughly twenty times. We can have confidence that we are growing closer to our God when we know we are living as we should, when we know our character reflects the picture we see in scripture. We may not always know what standards to which others hold, but we can know God’s standard as presented in His word. We can know that we know Him when we walk in His truth.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Righteousness, Peace, and Joy

Let not then your good be evil spoken of: for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:16-17).

God desires for all who believe in the name of Jesus to be one (John 17:20-23) and to have the same mind and the same judgment (1 Corinthians 1:10). In order even to begin this process we must all submit ourselves under God’s mighty hand and to be instructed by Him and not the world around us (1 Peter 5:6, Colossians 2:1-9, Romans 12:1-2). And yet, even though we are to be of the same mind and the same judgment, there are matters concerning which God has provided liberty and are not of significant concern. In matters relating to the faith, we must hold firm and not compromise (Galatians 1:6-9). In matters of liberty, we must consider the interests of others and resolve to not put a stumbling block in a fellow Christian’s way (Philippians 2:1-4, Romans 14:13).

This is why the message of Romans 14:17 is so essential: we must use proper judgment to discern the matters of “eating and drinking” so as to not violate or grieve the “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

“Eating and drinking” are the matters of liberty – in context, the eating of meats (Romans 14:2). Observing days is a similar issue that is mentioned, demonstrating that we should not interpret “eating and drinking” exclusively literally (cf. Romans 14:5). These liberties involve practices or means of accomplishing practices that are within the realm of Biblical authority (Colossians 3:17) and yet for which God has not made specific provision.

“Eating and drinking” is contrasted with “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” The Kingdom of God is not about the former, but it certainly is about the latter.

“Righteousness in the Holy Spirit” involves that which God has established – doing what God has determined is right, and avoiding that which God has determined is wrong (Romans 12:9). There can be no room for compromising these standards– those who approve what God condemns or condemns what God approves are considered accursed (Galatians 1:6-9, 5:19-21). To believe that Romans 14 can provide “flexibility” in God’s standards of righteousness is misguided and certainly not Paul’s intent. The matters concerning which Paul speaks in Romans 14 are the matters of “food and drink” which are not to hinder the Kingdom of God. If God says we must do something, we must do it. if God says we must avoid something, we must avoid it.

Paul does not stop there. He also speaks of the “peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Peace is not merely the absence of hostility or strife – it involves killing hostility (cf. Ephesians 2:15-17). To have peace requires each person to seek the best interest of others and not themselves, and to work to build up– even if one’s personal preference must be sacrificed (Philippians 2:1-4, Romans 14:19). We must remember that in order for us to have the peace that surpasses understanding and to be reconciled to God, Jesus needed to kill the enmity through suffering and enduring the cross (Ephesians 2:11-18). If we will have peace in the Kingdom, we are going to have to suffer and endure (cf. Romans 8:17-18, 15:1)!

“Joy in the Holy Spirit” is based in our great salvation that God is accomplishing (cf. 1 Peter 1:3-9). There is joy when people repent and do what is right (Luke 15:7). There is joy when we walk in the truth (3 John 1:4). We are to take joy and happiness in one another and the encouragement we derive from one another in our walk of faith (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:19, Hebrews 10:24-25). In Philippians 2:2-4, Paul tells us exactly how we can make the joy of God complete: to be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind, doing nothing out of rivalry, considering everyone better than themselves, looking toward the interests of others. This is the happiness we can have in the Spirit!

While we have examined righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit separately, it only works when all three are present. The Kingdom requires not just the righteousness of the Holy Spirit – peace and joy in the Spirit must also be present.

“Eating and drinking” may not violate the righteousness in the Holy Spirit, but if people insist on their liberties to the detriment of the consciences of their fellow Christians, or if Christians vigorously condemn fellow Christians for matters of liberty and not on the basis of revealed truth, the peace and joy of the Holy Spirit is violated, no matter how “right” or “legitimate” the doctrinal position.

God is not merely concerned about truth – He is also concerned about people (1 Timothy 2:4). We are to be known as Jesus’ disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35), and biting and devouring one another on the basis of liberties does not reflect that love (cf. Galatians 5:15).

We must hold firm to the truth and proclaim it to all men, embodying the righteousness of the Holy Spirit. But we must also work to kill any hostility that may exist among us and to seek the best interest of one another and to share in the peace and joy in the Spirit – and that is going to mean that we are going to have to sacrifice some personal opinions, desires, and liberties for the sake of one another. Let us seek to uphold the righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, building up the Kingdom, and glorify God!

lesson by Ethan R. Longhenry

How Many Commandments Are There?

June 21, 2009. How Many Commandments Are There?
Recently, I was looking at a website called A Crash Course in Jewish History, and one quote from an article on the Ten Commandments caught my eye: “Because we don’t have the temple, 369 of the 613 commandments are no longer applicable today.” By the First Century, the law of Moses had been so analyzed that scholars could enumerate 613 separate laws – 365 negative/248 positive. In Matthew 22, one comes to Jesus and asks which is the greatest on these laws. In verse 37, Jesus answers with two commandments: to love God and to love our neighbors.
In Deuteronomy 4:2 begins by calling on the people of Israel to neither add to or subtract from the commandments, and, when we reach chapter 6, we come to the verse Jesus quotes regarding our love of God. Moses goes on from this command to love God to instruct the children of Israel to know the word of God as they know themselves. It can be an imposing thing to know so many laws, and I think many New Testament Christians look at the Bible the same way – as a list of do’s and don’ts. How many commandments are there that we have to keep?
Narrowing the List
In Psalm 15, David asks who will dwell with the Lord, and he reduces the law of Moses to eleven principles.
O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?
He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart;
who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor,
nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be moved.
Even in these, we might find gray areas or have a hard time remembering all eleven principles. Isaiah 33:15 narrows this list down to five  items – one who walks and speaks uprightly, rejects oppression, avoids bribes, does not listen to words of violence, avoids looking at evil. Taking things farther, in Micah 6:6-8, the prophet speaks of three things God looks for in His followers: to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God.
After going from 613 to eleven to six to three, Isaiah 56:1 reduces the requirements to two basic principles. He calls on God’s people to keep justice and to do righteousness. Amos 5:4-6 calls on God’s people to seek Him, and Habakuk 2:4 says the righteous shall live by faith. All of these come back to the same general ideas of righteousness, holiness, honesty, justice, and love. These are characteristics that are neither easy to follow, nor are they always encouraged.
The Foundation of God’s Law
I don’t think God looked at His law as 613 commandments. What He wanted and still wants from His people is holiness and uprightness. When Jesus answers the question of the greatest law in Matthew 22, He is telling His listeners to love God more than anything and to treat others the way you want to be treated. Love others even if they do not love you. Remember the Ten Commandments? The first four cover man’s relationship with God, and the rest relate to man’s relationship with his fellow man.
James 1:21 calls on us to put away wickedness and to receive God’s word into our souls, and James 2:22 tells us our faith must be living and active. Back in James 2:8, the author calls loving your neighbor as the royal law. We should respect the authority of God’s word and follow His pattern, but, in our daily lives, it can be as simple as putting God first and loving our fellow persons as ourselves. Instead of focusing on the checklist, we should be focusing on our God and those lives we touch every day.

Recently, I was looking at a website with a section called A Crash Course in Jewish History, and one quote from an article on the Ten Commandments caught my eye: “Because we don’t have the temple, 369 of the 613 commandments are no longer applicable today.” By the First Century, the law of Moses had been so analyzed that scholars could enumerate 613 separate laws – 365 negative/248 positive. In Matthew 22, one comes to Jesus and asks which is the greatest on these laws. In verse 37, Jesus answers with two commandments: to love God and to love our neighbors.

In Deuteronomy 4:2 begins by calling on the people of Israel to neither add to or subtract from the commandments, and, when we reach chapter 6, we come to the verse Jesus quotes regarding our love of God. Moses goes on from this command to love God to instruct the children of Israel to know the word of God as they know themselves. It can be an imposing thing to know so many laws, and I think many New Testament Christians look at the Bible the same way – as a list of do’s and don’ts. How many commandments are there that we have to keep?

Narrowing the List

In Psalm 15, David asks who will dwell with the Lord, and he reduces the law of Moses to eleven principles.

O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?

He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart;

who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor,

nor takes up a reproach against his friend;

in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD;

who swears to his own hurt and does not change;

who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent.

He who does these things shall never be moved.

Even in these, we might find gray areas or have a hard time remembering all eleven principles. Isaiah 33:15 narrows this list down to five  items – one who walks and speaks uprightly, rejects oppression, avoids bribes, does not listen to words of violence, avoids looking at evil. Taking things farther, in Micah 6:6-8, the prophet speaks of three things God looks for in His followers: to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God.

After going from 613 to eleven to six to three, Isaiah 56:1 reduces the requirements to two basic principles. He calls on God’s people to keep justice and to do righteousness. Amos 5:4-6 calls on God’s people to seek Him, and Habakkuk 2:4 says the righteous shall live by faith. All of these come back to the same general ideas of righteousness, holiness, honesty, justice, and love. These are characteristics that are neither easy to follow, nor are they always encouraged.

The Foundation of God’s Law

I don’t think God looked at His law as 613 commandments. What He wanted and still wants from His people is holiness and uprightness. When Jesus answers the question of the greatest law in Matthew 22, He is telling His listeners to love God more than anything and to treat others the way you want to be treated. Love others even if they do not love you. Remember the Ten Commandments? The first four cover man’s relationship with God, and the rest relate to man’s relationship with his fellow man.

James 1:21 calls on us to put away wickedness and to receive God’s word into our souls, and James 2:22 tells us our faith must be living and active. Back in James 2:8, the author calls loving your neighbor as the royal law. We should respect the authority of God’s word and follow His pattern, but, in our daily lives, it can be as simple as putting God first and loving our fellow persons as ourselves. Instead of focusing on the checklist, we should be focusing on our God and those lives we touch every day.

by Tim Smelser

Paul’s Answer to Felix

If someone was to ask you why you live how you do, why do you believe what you do, how would you answer? How would you use this single chance? We might talk about the gospel’s power to save, the good news contained in that message. We might appeal to the so-called steps of salvation. By these qualities, we might defend our hope.

Paul, in Acts 24, has this opportunity when he presents his defense before Felix, and he takes an approach quite different from one we might make. In verse 42 of this chapter, Felix and his wife inquire of Paul about the path he has chosen. In verse 25, Paul reasons from righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come.

On Righteousness

Righteousness is simply holiness in daily thought and action. Our conduct and our attitudes reflect our righteousness. Romans 12:1-2 instructs us to present ourselves as a living sacrifice in our spiritual service. Paul calls on us to be different from the world, separate and distinct in our thoughts and actions. I Peter 1:13-16 instructs to prepare our minds, setting our hope on God and reflecting His holiness in our lives. Romans 1:16-17 affirms God’s power to save through the gospel, demonstrated in those who live by faith, those whose lives are defined by their service to God.

Romans 10:1-3 records Paul praising the zeal of his national brethren, but he warns that they should not be satisfied by their own standard of righteousness. The same is true of us today. God does not compare our level of righteousness to those around us. He compares us to His standard, even if those standards call for changes in our lives that we may be hesitant to make. Our standards must raise to God’s standard.

On Self-Control

Self-control is a personal application of what we know to be right as guided by God’s will. Proverbs 25:28 calls one lacking self-control like a city whose defenses are destroyed. (Remember the importance of walls and defenses around cities during this time period.) Self-control is our defense against forces that can tear us down. Galatians 5:22-23 groups this quality with other fruits of the spirit like love and kindness. II Peter 1:5 instructs us to work on self-control as we develop the qualities of our faith. Also, Titus 1:8 applies this quality to those who would help oversee a congregation.

We don’t always want to be in control of self. We don’t like others to monitor us, and sometimes we neglect to monitor our selves. We want to do what we want to do, but God tells us to guide ourselves by His will rather than by our own will. In I Corinthians 7:5 warns against the devil’s willingness to tempt the limits of our self-control. We cannot drop our defenses, or our adversary will overtake us. We must use God’s word to equip us to control ourselves.

On Judgment

God’s judgment emphasizes personal accountability. Romans 13:12 warns that all will give an account before God, and Ecclesiastes 12:14 says all works will be brought to judgment, secret or otherwise. II Corinthians 5:10 tells us we will all be revealed for who we are before Christ’s judgment seat. However, we may convince ourselves that God will take us in even when we have rejected Him. He has demonstrated His love to us by offering up His own son in our place, but we cannot continue to resist Him. Matthew 25 depicts God dividing people on His right and His left. We should be living so, when we are judged, we know that we will have an Advocate in Christ.

Conclusion

The faith we have in Christ Jesus is not dependent on my feelings or my own standards. It is rooted in our confidence in God’s word and our submission to that word. In Acts 24, when presented with these arguments, Felix sends Paul away until a more convenient time. He leaves Paul in jail, does visit him in hopes of a bribe. It seems Felix’s convenient time never comes.
What are we waiting for to make the changes in our lives that we need? Will we, like Felix, simply put God off? He is waiting for us to come to Him, but we must come to Him on His terms, striving to reflect His righteousness, exercising self-control, and submitting to His mercy preparing for that judgment to come.

lesson by Tim Smelser