Developing Righteousness (3)

 

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 has rules, but it is more than rules.  If we care for rules without caring for people, we have missed the goal of righteousness.  The scriptural rules come from God precisely because He cares about people.  We need rules to be righteous, but they must be the right rules.  They must be God’s rules.  We may accept no substitutes. … If we abide by those rules, we are not goal-less fanatics but true children of the King.” (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’ve examined 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 one sermon, it was suggested that we develop God’s righteousness through a single-minded devotion, a biblical conviction, a sacrificial lifestyle, and a fearless courage.  In another lesson, a virtuous perspective, a servant attitude, a holy self-control, and a devoted faithfulness were emphasized.  Today, we’ll examine four more areas: a godly example, a group orientation, an enduring perseverance, and a warfare mentality.

 

To develop God’s righteousness, we must display a godly example.  It is natural for children to imitate their parents, for students to become like their teachers, and for people to follow their leaders and heroes.  The same is true in the spiritual realm.  Paul told Timothy to be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, and in purity (1 Timothy 4:12).  To become a godly example, we also must be careful about what we imitate.  Here are four things the scriptures say that we should NOT imitate.  Deuteronomy 18:9 states that the Jews were not to imitate the abominable practices of the nations around them—burning children as sacrifices, practicing witchcraft or sorcery, conjuring spells, and calling on the dead.  We might ask ourselves, “How in the world could the Israelites get caught up in such horrible practices?”  But before we are too critical of them, maybe we should reflect on the horrible practices in our own nation—gay marriages, student killings, drug trafficking, rampant gambling, and child abuse.  Let’s take heed that we do not imitate our culture’s abominable practices.  According to 2 Kings 17:15, the Jews were not to imitate the pagans in their idolatry (and they often did so when they abandoned God’s law).  Someone has calculated that 58% of U.S. adults never read another book after they graduate from High School, and 65% of those who go to church have never read the entire New Testament.  What are our modern day idols—glitzy films, heavy metal, mean wheels, sports dynasties?  Let’s resist the idolatry around us by keeping God’s Word in our hearts!  Ezekiel 23:48 says that the Jews were imitating the lewdness of those about them, their carnal and impure sexual practices.  Again, before we criticize the Jews, let’s take stock of our own culture—child molestation, immoral affairs, internet pornography, binge drinking.  Let’s not imitate our culture’s lewdness!  Hebrews 4:11 warns us not to imitate the Jews in their disobedience.  Through their disobedience the Jews lost their chance to enter into the Promised Land, and had to wander for 40 long years in the wilderness until a new generation arose.  Disobedience can bring severe consequences.  Let’s not disobey God’s directives for the benefit of our lives.  Now there are four things that the scriptures say we CAN imitate.  Paul told the Corinthians in 11:1 to imitate him as he imitated Christ.  The context above this verse discusses being sensitive to another member’s religious outlook on certain practices.  So Paul is telling us to imitate his sensitivity towards other members.  Hebrews 13:7 admonishes: “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow (or imitate), considering the outcome of their conduct.”  Imitate the faith of those good church leaders who rule over you.  We see how God’s Word has influenced their lives, so we strive to be obedient like them.  1 Peter 2:21 tells us that we should follow or imitate the good example of Jesus who did not retaliate or seek revenge when He was mistreated, but He committed Himself to the Righteous Judge or God.  Likewise, let us trust God to be the judge and not take matters of vengeance into our own hands!  3 John 11 tells us to imitate good, and not what is evil.  In this context, imitating good was showing hospitality to other members.  Let’s grow in opening up our homes to other members.  Now if we don’t imitate abominable practices, modern idolatry, current lewdness, and disobedient behaviors, but do imitate being sensitive to members, letting faith control our lives, trusting in God to be the judge, and offering hospitality to others, then we also will be godly examples like Timothy which others can imitate!  You can then say like the apostle Paul, “Brethren, join in following my example” (Philippians 3:17).  To develop God’s righteousness, let’s set a godly example.

 

To develop God’s righteousness, we must have a group orientation.  Ecclesiastes 4:12 teaches us that a three-fold cord is not easily broken, or we might say that there is strength in numbers.  Romans 15:1-2 tells us that strong members should bear with the mannerisms of weaker members so that all may benefit from edification.  Galatians 6:1-2 tells that spiritual members should help fallen members with the proper spirit.  Ephesians 6:10-17 encourages all to put on the whole armor of God to oppose Satan's attacks as we stand together.  1 Thessalonians 5:11-14 shows the great concern we should have for one another as we warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, show patience towards all, and do good to everybody.  Let's quickly examine the importance of a group orientation and some implications involved with this concept.  First of all, with all the power that Jesus possessed, it is very interesting that He also manifested a group orientation with the training of His disciples.  He enlisted common men who had their weaknesses—they were impulsive, temperamental, easily offended, short-fused, and had the prejudices of their environment.  Now if that all sounds sort of like some church members that we know, then love them, work with them, and serve them, just as our Lord worked with His group!  Secondly, the New Testament definitely emphasizes unity rather than distinctions based on education, cultural habits, prejudices, and opinions.  Thirdly, group orientation enables common members to do uncommon things!  Fourthly, for the church to function effectively in the world, there must be group orientation where all members share a common goal which takes a cooperative effort, and each member does his or her part to work together with others.  Now let's look at a few implications.  First of all, we not only share a common salvation, but also we share a common ministry of outreach, comfort, support, and service.  Secondly, one with a group orientation does not work as a one man band.  Thirdly, with group orientation, there is a certain trust and reliance on the skills and abilities of other members to do their part.  Fourthly, group orientation abhors the “spiritual king of the mountain game”.  Fifthly, when there is disunity and failure to function as a group, the church limps along as an uncoordinated body with only a few members doing most of the work.  Someone has rightly observed: “Having a group orientation is another one of the litmus test qualities of [Christian] maturity” (Hampton III).  The early Christians saw themselves as fellow citizens of God's kingdom, fellow heirs of heaven, and fellow workers in the church laboring and serving together in unity to show Christ's sincere and pure love to the world (Ephesians 2:19 and 3:6; Philippians 4:3).  To develop God's righteousness, let's have a group orientation!

 

To develop God's righteousness, we must display an enduring perseverance.  In the opening ceremonies of the 1964 Olympic Games, this message was spelled out with lights: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part; just as the most important thing in life is not triumph but the struggle.  The essential thing is ... to have fought well” (quoted by Hampton III).  The Christian race is a marathon, not a 100 yard dash.  Jesus told a parable about those who began well, but they had no root and soon fell away.  Others fell out of the race by leaving the arena to pursue riches, pleasures, and affairs of the world.  But then, there were those “who heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it, and bear fruit with patience (this last word could be translated perseverance)” (Luke 8:11-15).  Endurance is continuing on despite adversities, hardships, and temptations.  Perseverance is steady persistence in adhering to a course of action, a belief, or a purpose.  So how can we have such an enduring perseverance?  Let's look at five passages very quickly.  The first is 2 Thessalonians 1:4-5: “So that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer.”  Paul says that when we endure persecutions and tribulations for Christ's sake, we can know with great assurance that we are undoubtedly IN God's kingdom; we are ON the winning team!  Knowing that we are in the right can help us to endure!  Now look please at 2 Timothy 2:10-11: “Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.  This is a faithful saying: 'For if we die with Him, we shall live with Him!'”  Paul says that he endures all things because such perseverance is leading to others' salvation.  Then notice how Paul drives down a stake with a saying that you can depend on: “If WE (that is you and your fellow members) die with Christ as our Lord, then WE (all of us) will get to live eternally with Him!”  Knowing that others are being saved can help us to endure!  The next verse is Hebrews 6:15: “And so, after Abraham had patiently endured, he obtained the promise [of having a son].”  Now how did Abraham endure?  Verse 17 then gives us two ways—He trusted in the unchangeable nature of God's truthfulness.  When God promises it, it is filled with truth, and we can count on it because it will not change!  God will keep and follow through on His word; in fact, when God promises it, it's really “a done deal”!  Knowing that God's promises are truthful and unchangeable can help us to endure!  Now look at Hebrews 11:27: “By faith, Moses forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him [i.e. God] Him who is invisible.”  How did Moses endure?  He kept living by faith in God; he lived as though the Invisible One was always present and close to Him.  God was real, God was alive, God was up close and personal to Moses.  Knowing God is so concerned with our lives can help us to endure!  Now look at Hebrews 12:2: “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  How was Jesus able to persevere under the weight and torture of the cross?  He did it because He knew the pain would be worth the gain—joy, triumph, and victory would be the ultimate outcome of His ordeal!  This earth's trials are so brief in light of eternity's joys.  Knowing the joy of heaven with which God is waiting to bless and crown us can help us to endure!  One writer puts it this way: “Endurance and [perseverance] give us the capacity to plod on with joyous, hopeful, and loving determination in spite of disappointments, rejection, persecution, and other pressures that might otherwise cause us to throw in the towel.  Endurance and perseverance give us the willingness and capacity to continue on because our hope is fixed on God's ... purposes [as sure as God's] eternal rewards [as future realities]” (Hampton III).  It's a marathon!  Bear fruit with perseverance!  To develop God's righteousness, let's have an enduring perseverance!

 

To develop God's righteousness, let us keep a warfare mentality.  One good brother has observed: “In the New Testament, words such as warfare, soldiers, weapons, armor, conquer, and other military figures march across the pages. ... Our perceptions of war and actual vile, muddy, exhausting, terrifying reality are poles apart. ... True soldiers don't have the luxury of deciding where and when they will go into battle. ... You know I can't recall hearing anyone referred to as 'fellow soldiers' these days. ... Soldiers fight in armies.  Armies fight in wars.  If we are soldiers in an army, then we must be at war” (Whitsett).  Here are five concepts to keep in mind concerning our warfare.  First of all, we are to be on the offensive in exposing sin.  Ephesians 5:11-13 affirms: “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.  For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.  But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light.”  The deeds of the flesh and darkness wage war against people's souls.  It is time for us to take a stand, expose the evil, and make a difference!  We don't do that by sitting in here; we do that by taking the light into the darkness—attending public meetings, writing letters and articles, speaking out, running for office, becoming active in whatever that we can.  Evil will not go away by our ignoring it; we must turn on the floodlights of truth and expose sin for what it is, however unpopular that may be.  Secondly, we must never underestimate the enemy.  1 Peter 4:8-9 warns us: “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.  Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by our brotherhood in the world.”  Satan is the enemy, and he is no pushover.  Who caused the destruction of Job's family and livestock?  Who caused the death of 70,000 Jews?  Who caused Judas to betray Jesus?  Who caused Peter to deny Jesus?  Who caused battles and hardships in the book Revelation?  Satan is powerful, shrewd, and deceptive.  His mission is to turn us away from God and to turn us against each other.  Will we allow him to seduce our congregation into worldliness in order to make it become ineffective in our community?  We must never underestimate our enemy.  Thirdly, we must become fighters on the battlefield.  In 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, the apostle Paul declares: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”  One brother puts it this way: “A revolution will occur when the army of light becomes eager for the fight!  When we actually seek positions to struggle against the dominion of darkness, we'll see some action!  [Christians] will endeavor to become teachers, reporters, publishers, makers of motion pictures, writers, preachers, shapers of public opinion.  They will engage in furious combat [in whatever circumstance] for the hearts and minds of men, women, and children. ... Can you hear the trumpet [call]?  Let the soldiers of Christ counter-attack the dark army in the mountain passes of the media, on the plains of our educational systems, on the beaches of our social services, in the streets of our law-enforcement agencies, and in the jungles of our judicial systems” (Whitsell)!  My beloved brethren, we are not called to be wimps on a playground, but fighters on a battleground!  Fourthly, we must be watchful at the fort.  Paul once wrote to the Corinthian brethren in 2 Corinthians 12:20: “For I fear lest, when I come, I will not find you such as I wish; lest there be contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults.”  Ignorance of God's word, complacency in our ranks, laziness with regards to sin, quarreling and bickering among ourselves, and those who seek to run the church on their own because they love the preeminence—these are some of Satan's strategies for capturing the fort and rendering it useless.  The army of God cannot afford any “friendly fire” and any infighting because such armies that turn upon themselves will self-destruct (Whitsell)!  Fifthly, we must ever follow the orders of our Commander.  Hebrews 10:35-36 exhorts us: “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward.  For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise.”  Doing God's will is our sword of the Spirit.  Jesus foiled Satan's attacks each time by saying, “Thus it is written, ...”  That's the same as saying, “God's will on this matter is ...”  The devil will flee from us if we resist him (James 4:7).  But we must put our wills under the control of God's will.  “What is God's will in this situation?” is always a good question for us to continually ask ourselves.  And if we can't answer that, maybe it’s time to consult other fellow soldiers who might be able to help us figure it out.  We must ever follow the orders of our Commander.  To develop God's righteousness, let's keep a warfare mentality!

 

The great British leader Winston Churchill was once asked to give a speech at his old alma mater.  He had a wonderful command of the English language, he had made many speeches, and he knew how to inspire.  The crowd was excited, and there were many reporters.  On this occasion, he went to the podium, placed his hands squarely on the podium, looked everyone in the eye with a bulldog ferocity, and said, “Never, never, never, never, never give up!”  Then he sat down.  How many times was that short speech repeated time and time again by many a British soldier out on the battlefield when it came time for flight or fight?  Set a godly example, have a group orientation, display an enduring perseverance, and keep a warfare mentality.  Dear fellow Christian, in your walk with our Lord, never, never, never, never, never give up!  Are you setting a godly example for others to follow?  Are you thinking congregationally or selfishly?  Are you persevering or have you grown weary and quit?  Are you fighting the good fight?