Developing Righteousness (2)

In a previous lesson, we saw that “for [Christians] to make progress in sanctification, [or] in learning to please God, [we] must have a clear idea of what [our] goal is….Jesus stated it this way in Matthew 6:33: ‘Seek first [above all else] the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.’ The seeking of God begins at conversion, [but it continues as] a lifelong pursuit” (Sproul). We are to seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness. But what exactly does such righteousness look like? Someone has written: “Righteousness means right living. It means treating people right. It means living with integrity. A righteous person is one whom we can trust. A righteous person is moral and pious [without being demanding or stuck up]. A righteous person not only has a sense of concern for other people’s feelings [but also] wants to treat people right because [this person] has the overarching desire to please a loving God” (Ibid). How do we develop such righteousness? What does it take to make progress in sanctification? What aspects should we focus on? We have no single book in the New Testament that was written specifically to address these questions. So, we must examine a wide range of aspects. As we examine them in several sermons, there is no pretense here that those offered should be seen as a final, authoritative, and exhaustive listing. They are presented as aspects that we all as Christians need to be developing continually with the understanding that we’ll probably never master them completely. In our last sermon on this topic, it was suggested that we develop God’s righteousness through a single-minded devotion, a biblical conviction, a sacrificial lifestyle, and a fearless courage. Today, we want to examine four more aspects. We also develop God’s righteousness through: a virtuous perspective, a servant attitude, a holy self-control, and a devoted faithfulness.

First of all, let’s continue to develop righteousness through a virtuous perspective. The apostle Peter challenges us in 2 Peter 1:5-7: “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith, virtue, to virtue, knowledge, to knowledge, self-control, to self-control, perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness, brotherly kindness, to brotherly kindness, love.” Right after faith, Peter encourages us to add virtue. What is a virtuous perspective? When we hear the word “virtue,” we may think of a woman who has maintained her chastity. But the word had a much richer meaning in the first century. A biblical scholar has written recently that this word was used by the pagans to describe a person who brought the divine message of a new religion, demonstrated a divine power in their lives, and taught this religion as a way to perfect society—much like Moses did for Israel. That definition was changed, however, in the New Testament because of Jesus’ actions, and now a virtuous person is one who gives herself or himself to benefit others. Another writer stated a similar idea: “When anything in nature properly fulfills its purpose, that fulfillment was referred to as ‘virtuous’ among the Greeks. Land that produces crops is ‘virtuous’. Tools that function correctly to get the job done are ‘virtuous’. Thus, the Christian then who helps, serves, uplifts, and encourages others is ‘virtuous’” (unnamed web source). Being virtuous means that we have the outlook to bless others’ lives. Instead of letting our culture shape us, we are shaping our culture by our service. We don’t just tell the world that we have God’s divine nature living within us; no, the world sees that divine nature within us by our being a blessing to those around us. We worked some recently to get unbelievers into our building for a blessing during our gospel meeting, but members who are virtuous are mobile little parts of the body of Christ who go out from this building to take God’s blessing into their homes, into their schools, into their workplaces, into their gyms, and even into their neighborhoods. Even when persecuted, our perspective is on blessing others. In the second century, there was once an older brother who was being hunted by Caesar’s officers. When they showed up at his house, he did not try to escape, but rather cheerfully greeted them and ordered that food be brought to them. He then asked if he could pray for one hour while they ate. After his prayer and their meal, he was ready to take whatever would happen, and he did die for his faith. He followed the apostle Paul’s instructions in Romans 12:20 and fed his enemies. Listen carefully to Peter in 1 Peter 3:8-9: “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, know that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.” Blessing for blessing? No, blessing in spite of persecution! There’s a very tough challenge, but there’s also a virtuous Christian! “Giving all diligence, add to your faith, virtue.” Let’s continue to develop righteousness through a virtuous perspective!

Secondly, let’s continue to develop righteousness through a servant attitude. Jesus is our great example; He humbled Himself of heaven’s glories and became a servant. Let’s read in Mark 10:41: “And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John.” [Why? Could it have been because those two had “outsmarted” them in asking Jesus for the two most powerful positions in the kingdom before they did?] We all kind of like the idea of having the best and most powerful seats in the house, don’t we? But let’s read on in Mark: “But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, ‘You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be the slave of all.” If we want the greatest spot, we must learn to be a slave to all. Our status will be submission. “A servant is characterized not so much as a person to be despised, but as someone without rights; a servant submits himself to the will of his master. No matter what the master’s station or condition in life, whether king or peasant, rich or poor, strong or weak, brilliant or slow of mind, Christ [admonishes us as] Christians to live as slaves who submit ourselves [to building others up] and to meeting their needs” (Keathley III). Again, this is not always an easy thing to do, but Christ Himself gives us the example since He submitted Himself to serving others--even while He was hanging on a Roman cross! Our status will be submission, and our standard will be seeking the opportunity to help others. Remember Jesus’ great words in John 13:12-14: “So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them: ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.’” When all those disciples entered into that upper room, they probably started looking around for the slave who would do the customary washing of the feet. It probably never occurred to any of them, “Hey, I could wash everyone’s feet!” After all, that’s a pretty lowly, distasteful, and unglamorous job to do. Then to their surprise and humiliation, Jesus took up the towel, stooped down, and washed all of their feet, … yes, even Judas’ (What did we just say about blessing our enemies?)! While all of the disciples were seeking to be served, Jesus was the only one just looking for the opportunity to serve! Perhaps Jesus had prayed earlier that day, “God show me how I can teach these disciples that serving each other is really what it’s all about!” Are we praying that same prayer and following Jesus’ example? Have we washed anyone’s feet lately? Have we been thinking about ways that we can help others? May God enlighten all of us to be better helpers to one another! Our standard will be seeking the opportunity to help others. Our stance will be doing whatever it takes to set others free. Go back to where we were in Mark 10 and hear what Jesus said to conclude His teaching on leadership to His disciples: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” What is a ransom? A ransom was the price given to free a slave; it’s the payment given to free a child from their kidnappers. Jesus gave His very life for what purpose? To pay the price for us to be given our freedom from our slavery to Satan! Do you know anybody that is Satan’s slave today? What will we have to do in order for them to have their freedom? Will we do anything at all to help them have true liberty? “You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free! … Know this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin! … For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus had made me free from the law of sin and death” (John 8:32; Romans 6:6-7 and 8:2)! “Free at last, freed at last, praise the Lord, we’re free at last!” Don’t we want others to sing that glorious refrain with us!? Our stance will be doing whatever it takes to set others free as well! Our status will be submission, our standard will be seeking opportunities to help others, and our stance will be to do whatever it takes to set others free. In these ways, we will develop a servant attitude!

Thirdly, let us continue to develop righteousness through a holy self control. If we fail to practice self-control, what are the options? First, there is self-indulgence—no restraints, let it all hang out, do whatever feels good! But listen to Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:25: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside, they are full of extortion and self-indulgence.” Jesus is not applauding those who follow the option of self-indulgence. Option two is self-deprivation—escape from evil, live in a monastery, withdraw from society! But listen to the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 4:1-4: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own consciences seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” “Deprive yourself of marriage and certain foods!” was the teaching of those who had departed from the faith! So Paul is not applauding those who follow the option of self-deprivation. Neither of these is holy self-control; for that we must practice a personal discipline. The apostle Paul describes such self-control in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore, I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” Temperance in all things—not self-indulgence, discipline for my body—not self-deprivation, bringing ourselves into subjection—now there’s self-control! Again, it sure isn’t easy, but God has provided us several resources for such self-control. First of all, there is our union with Christ. As Bro. Leon preached during the meeting, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, old things have passed away; behold all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Christ has given us a new lifestyle, totally diverse and radically changed from that pagan lifestyle that we used to live! Secondly, we have the help of God’s Spirit. In John 7:37-39, look at what Jesus promised: “’If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scriptures has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, who those believing in Him would receive.” We see here that Jesus makes the promise that believers would one day receive the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit. Now look at Ephesians 2:1-2, “And you he made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience …” Here’s a question for you: “How does the wicked spirit of Satan work in those who are disobedient?” Didn’t he work through our minds, and our cravings, and our desires, to get us to do the wrong things? Now here’s another question for you: “If Satan can work in that way for evil, why can’t the Holy Spirit work in a similar way through our renewed minds, spirits, and desires to get us to do the right things?” Peter tells us that the Holy Spirit’s indwelling in our lives begins at our baptism: “Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all those who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” The promise of God’s indwelling Holy Spirit is for all who will become Christ’s disciples, and the Spirit helps them to live lives of self-control. Thirdly, we have the help of God's Word. Paul tells the church in 2 Thess. 2:13-15: “But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the [Holy] Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or epistle.” Stand fast in God's word, whether you heard it or read it. Thankfully, God's Word can help us to live lives of self-control. Motivations for self-control are God's grace and the company that self-control keeps. Titus 2:11-12 affirms: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age ...” God welcomed us home, gave us numerous spiritual blessings, added us to the church, and changed our life's direction. Now if he's done all that for us—and we call that grace—then shouldn't we strive to live soberly, righteously, and godly lives for Him? Now notice quickly two more passages. The first is Acts 24:24-25: “And after some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and judgment to come, Felix was afraid ...” Notice how self-control is found between righteousness and final judgment. You see, righteousness should lead to self-control, and self-control will then prepare us for the judgment. This is what I mean when I say that self-control finds itself in good company. Another similar passage is the one we saw earlier in 2 Peter 1:5-7: “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith, virtue, to virtue, knowledge, to knowledge, self-control, to self-control, perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness, brotherly kindness, to brotherly kindness, love.” Self-control falls between knowledge and perseverance. Through greater knowledge of God and His ways and His will, we grow to be more self-controlled. Through greater self-control, we become more steadfast and persevering. You see once again that self-control is found in good company. Let’s continue to practice personal discipline with the help of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, God 's Word, and may God's grace and self-control's good company stir us on to live lives of a holy self-control!

Let's continue to develop righteousness through devoted faithfulness. God has been so faithful to mankind, hasn't He? The prophet Jeremiah wrote in one of Israel's darkest hours in Lamentations 3:22-24: “Through the Lord's mercies, we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness. 'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul; ‘therefore, I will hope in Him!’” As God had shown His faithfulness in punishing Israel with exile, so God would show His faithfulness in regrouping and re-establishing Israel in the future. And, from our perspective of history, we can see that God did show His faithfulness once again. Romans 3:3 asks, “Will their [that is the Jews'] unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly not!” then responds Paul. God's faithfulness always endures and remains! One scholar has made this correct observation: “God's faithfulness in redemption is central to the new Testament. What the Old Testament could only look forward to, the New Testament could look back upon” (Nixon in PEB). The New Testament shows us God's faithfulness to His promises of a new covenant with complete forgiveness, with the indwelling Holy Spirit, and with salvation for all! All those promises are now realities! The apostle Paul talks of God's faithfulness to both the Jews and the Gentiles in this way in Romans 11:30-32: “For as you [Gentiles] were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their [that is the Jews'] disobedience, even so these also have now been disobedient [that is the Jews], that through mercy shown you [Gentiles], they [the Jews] may also obtain mercy. For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all [so God can save both Jews and Gentiles through the Gospel]!” Now let's look quickly at some examples of human faithfulness. Our faithfulness is seen when we abide in Christ (John 15:4). Our faithfulness is seen when we are good stewards of what God has entrusted to us (1 Corinthians 4:1-2). Paul told Timothy to commit his teachings to faithful men so that they could pass that teaching along to others (2 Timothy 2:2). What can serve as some motivations for faithfulness? God's work on us and in us should motivate towards faithfulness. Notice how that great work is described in Hebrews 13:20-21: “Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead [there's great power], that great Shepherd of the sheep [there's great compassion], through the blood of the everlasting covenant [there's great relationship], make you complete [or mature] in every good work [there's great accomplishments], working in you what is well pleasing in His sight [there's great transformation], through Jesus Christ [there's great strength], to whom be glory forever and ever [there's great glory]!” God is working on us and in us in a mighty way! Now if God is doing His part, shouldn't we be doing our part by living in devoted faithfulness to Him? It's like the old hymn says: “Each step I take, my Savior goes before me, and with his loving hand, He leads the way. And with each breath, I whisper, 'I adore You,' Oh, what joy to walk with Him each day! Each step I take, I know that He will guide me; to higher ground He ever leads me on! Until some day the last step will be taken. Each step I take just leads me closer home.” God's faithfulness is steadfast and He continues His work to bring about accomplishments and transformation on and in our lives.

Let's continue to develop righteousness through a devoted faithfulness! “Clarence Jordan was a man of unusual abilities and commitment. He had two Ph.D.s, one in agriculture and one in biblical languages. So gifted was he, he could have chosen to do anything he wanted. He chose to serve the poor. In the 1940s, he, [his wife, and another couple] founded a farm in Americus, Georgia, and called it Koinonia [or Fellowship] Farm. It was a community for poor whites and poor blacks. As you might guess, such an idea did not go over well in the Deep South of the ’40s. Ironically, much of the resistance came from good church people who followed the laws of segregation as much as the other folk in town. [Later in 1950, Jordan was excommunicated from his denomination for his views on racial integration.] I'm not sure if Jordan ever became a member of the Lord's church after that. I do know that [the townspeople tried everything to stop Clarence [from 1953-1963]. They boycotted him, and slashed workers’ tires, bombed fruit stands, burned down property, and shotgunned cars. They chased off all the families except one black family which refused to leave. Once during a night attack, Jordan recognized the voices of many of the Klansmen, some were church people. Another was the local newspaper’s reporter. After their burning, the reporter came out to see what remained of the farm. The rubble still smoldered and the land was scorched, but he found Jordan in the field, hoeing and planting. “I heard the awful news,” he called to Jordan, “and I came out to do a story on the tragedy of your farm closing.” Jordan just kept on hoeing and planting. The reporter kept prodding, kept poking, trying to get a rise from this quietly determined man who seemed to be planting instead of packing his bags” (Keathley III). Now we'll return to this part of the story in just a moment. He did stay until 1963 when white people asked him to leave the county. He worked on a new translation of the New Testament. Then he established a fund for humanity; the concept was later adopted by Habitat for Humanity. Jordan died at age 57 in 1969. Remember the hypocritical reporter? He asked Jordan “in a haughty voice, 'Well, Dr. Jordan, you got two of them Ph.D.s and you’ve put fourteen years into this farm, and there’s nothing left of it at all. Just how successful do you think you’ve been?' Jordan stopped hoeing, turned toward the reporter with his penetrating blue eyes, and said quietly but firmly, 'About as successful as the cross. Sir, I don’t think you understand us. What we are about is not success but faithfulness. We’re staying. Good day'” (Ibid.). By the way, Koinania Farm is still operating today! Like Jordan, let's continue to develop righteousness through: a virtuous perspective, a servant attitude, a holy self-control, and a devoted faithfulness!