Righteousness: Rightly Aligned to God’s Ways
Righteousness: Rightly Aligned to God’s Ways
Questions for Reflection
Read 2 Chronicles 20:1-4, 12 and Matthew 5:19-20, 48
- What was the threat against King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles, and how did he respond? How can his posture and actions guide us when we don’t know how to live rightly?
- Does Matthew 5:19-20, 48 sound like good news or bad news? When you hear Jesus’ words, do you feel overwhelmed with an impossible task of perfection, or encouraged with a vision of right living? Or maybe a little of both?
- In Matthew 5, what does Jesus mean when he says that our righteousness should “surpass” (vs. 20) that of the Pharisees, who strictly obeyed every word? What does it mean to be righteous as a follower of Jesus?
- The Pharisees were careful to obey every word in the Law, but they still missed the mark. What are some spiritual practices (going to church, reading your Bible, giving, serving, prayer, etc. . . . ) that have lost their meaning and have become a bit rote, dry, or inauthentic for you lately? How can you invite God to breathe life into your spiritual practices to enable you to be more fully Aligned with God’s Kingdom?
Read Matthew 5:20, Matthew 5:48
Dr. Condoleezza Rice tells the story of, when she was Provost at Stanford University, being asked to play the piano at a local Baptist church. Having grown up Presbyterian, she had often played piano at church. However, she had never been to a Baptist church service. After agreeing to be the pianist at the church, Dr. Rice called her mother, knowing she had played for Baptist churches. Dr. Rice told her, “I have no idea what I’m doing when I play at that church. They break into songs – any song, any key, any time – and expect me to accompany them. What should I do?”
Her mother’s counsel was this: “Honey, just play confidently in the key of C and, soon, they’ll all come back to you.” And, Dr. Rice said, “It was true. I played in C, the foundational key in music, and people came together.” Then, she added, “Perhaps God plays in C, and that’s why we always seem to find our way back to him, sometimes in spite of ourselves.”
The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 is Jesus’ longest teaching about how the God in whose image we have been created would have us to live. Groups like the Pharisees and the teachers of the law had set up elaborate rules and laws that had to be kept perfectly. Jesus knew that no one could keep all those laws, including the teachers who taught them. Instead, he taught that our lives are to be aligned with the only one who is truly right in every way, i.e., our Creator God.
Jesus (and Jesus alone) would live that perfectly right life, give his life in the place of sinners, defeat sin and death through his resurrection, and begin a work of total restoration and renewal in all who follow him by faith. Until his work in us is done, we are to keep our eyes fixed on him (Heb 12:1-2) and our ears attuned to the God whose presence through his Spirit and Word will be playing in the key of C until we are perfectly complete as our Father in heaven is.
Reflect: How is your life “out of tune” with God’s Kingdom?
Pray: LORD, help me to become more aligned to your will. Guide me to see the ways my life is out of sync with your purpose and calling, and mold me in your likeness.
Read Luke 6:6-11
The ideological clash between Jesus and Pharisees has never been more apparent than in their interpretation of the Sabbath laws. For Jesus, the underlying principle of “rest” is what made the Sabbath a holy-day. But for his opponents, holiness was imputed to the day by following a complex ritual of abstention.
On one such Sabbath day Jesus’ gaze fell on the withered hand of a crippled man. Even when the sacred scroll is unrolled in the synagogue, His eyes were fixed on a person in desperate need. The Pharisees and the Scribes, on the other hand, were “watching him closely,” to see when Jesus made the next wrong move. What you are looking at reveals what your obsession is: Jesus’ opponents were obsessed with the meticulous observance of the law, but for Him, the priority was always the person.
This is what we hear in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus turns the Jewish idea of righteousness upside down and redefines it in terms of personal relationship. Righteousness is not about doing the right thing; it is about entering into a right relationship with God, which in turn produces right relationships with our fellow beings. While the Mosaic Law focused on action, the Sermon on the Mount drilled deep down and questioned the attitude behind the action.
The Pharisees and the Scribes were the guardians of the tradition and the interpreters of the Law. Apart from the 613 mitzvoth embedded in the written Torah, they also drafted an oral Torah (Mishna) that included another series of petty rules and regulations. Jesus taught that the (Sabbath) Law was made for man, but the Pharisees thought it was the other way around. This is the sad irony we glean from this story: often what is made for our good brings out the bad in us.
Reflect: When you think about your faith, where is your focus? Right action, or right relationship with God?
Pray: LORD, thank you for keeping your eyes on your Heavenly Father, even through the cross. Would you redirect our gaze, taking our focus away from rule keeping and enthrall us instead with your love and grace. Deepen our intimacy with you, and refine us in your image.
Read Amos 5.21 - 24
Sometimes words slide by, sometimes words are like super-glue; they make contact and you are stuck with them. I was a Freshman in High School when I heard lyrics by an artist named Dr. John and the words have been stuck with me since:
“I’d been in the right place, but it must have been the wrong time,
I’d have said the right thing, but I must have used the wrong line,
I been in the right trip, but I must have used the wrong car.”
Have you ever known you were doing the right thing, a thing you were expected to do or place you were expected to show up to, but in fact, you were just wrong?
The People of God were given the Law by God to shape their personal and their civil lives, but it had a deeper function…to point them to the Holy One. But instead of allowing the Law to direct them to God, they turned to religiousness as the answer, making the priority the Law itself.
Amos was a prophetic messenger whose calling was to communicate God’s dissatisfaction and judgment, declaring the need for Israel to repent. Israel knew where to be and when to keep religious requirements, they used religious language and did religious things, but did so without understanding the very nature of their purposes… aligning them more closely and intimately with God. They may have sincerely thought they were in sync with God’s leading, but in fact, the religiosity they were using was superficial and pragmatic at best, and hypocritical and deceptive at worse. To paraphrase the good Doctor: they were not in the right spiritual place and they definitely didn’t know what the right time was.
Reflect: Are there practices in your relationship with God that have become so routine, that the meaning has been lost and you are longing for freshness and depth to return?
Pray: As we continue our Lenten Journey to the cross and as we remember Jesus’ words that the Law and the Prophets are summed up in “Love God and Love Others” (Matt 22:34-40), identify an area where you have lost God’s perspective or heart behind a spiritual activity and ask God to renew your spirit, bringing you into deeper alignment with His purposes and callings.
Read: Read the passage once—slowly, gently—listening for one word or phrase that jumps out at you. Savor that word, repeating it (either out loud or in your head), listening for the “still, small voice” of God.
Reflect: Read the passage again, and this time ask: How is my life touched by this word? What does this word have to do with my life? What emotions do I feel as I hear this word? Sit in silence, meditating on how God’s word is speaking to your context.
Respond: Read the passage again, and this time ask: What is my response to God based on what I have heard?
Rest: Read it one more time and simply rest in the words of God.
Life Aligned: Righteousness -- Rightly Aligned to God’s Ways
2 Chronicles 20:12 & Matthew 5:20,43-48
I want to begin with a verse that has come to mean a lot to me these past few months:
“O God, we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you (King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chron 20:12).”
Have you ever prayed that prayer? I have -- often. And, I’ve been praying it a lot over the past months.
What led to King Jehoshaphat of Judah praying that prayer almost 3,000 years ago was this: “Some men of Judah came and told the king, ‘A great multitude of armies is coming against you and are at your border (2 Chron 20:1).’” So, Jehoshaphat prayed – and what he prayed was, “O God, we do not know what to do” – so this is what we’ll do – “lift up our eyes and keep them on you.”
That verse has become important to me because it concisely tells me what the first step is that I should take any time I don’t know what to do next in my life, i.e., I should fix my eyes on the Lord and allow that gaze to align my life with him.
Let’s face it – That’s is not usually our first reaction when we don’t know what to do. My first thought usually is to try to take control and solve the problem myself – or to grow frustrated and ask my church friends to pray that God will take the problem away – immediately!! But, I have become increasingly certain that what Jehoshaphat did when he did not know what to do is the first thing that all followers of Jesus should do when we don’t know what to do.
Life Aligned Series
That point brings me to the series Pastor Jeff and our pastoral team have planned for Lent 2020 here at LAC. They’ve called it, Life Aligned. Each message in this series will be drawn from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount recorded in Mt 5-7. Jeff gave me the assignment to begin this series by showing you the profound way that Jesus put together the first half of his sermon, Mt 5:17-48. In it, Jesus taught us how, once we become his followers, we are to make decisions that are in alignment with his character, his ways, and his commands. What Jesus said is so different from the way people in our world usually live. He told us to align each part of our lives by keeping our eyes on the Lord. His concluding words in ch. 5 are these: “Be perfect as God is perfect.”
Let me show you how Jesus taught us to align our lives with the character of God in his sermon:
#1: Jesus taught us what not to do – “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5:20).”
Notice the word “righteousness”. It means to be right: All brokenness healed. All filth cleaned up. All sins are forgiven. All relationships reconciled. The word Jesus used is often translated “justice” in the Bible, meaning, all wrongs are made right.
The Pharisees thought they could make themselves right – and they worked very hard at it. They went back to the Law of God found in the five Books of Moses (aka, the Torah) and pulled out all the rules and standards they found there. And, they worked very, very hard to keep them perfectly. In the eyes of the people in their culture, they were the most “righteous” people of all. So, it must have been shocking for people to hear Jesus say, “Your righteousness has to surpass the Pharisees’ or you won’t even enter into the kingdom of God!” Whew! That must have made them feel hopeless. If the Pharisees weren’t good enough, how could they be?
But, even the Pharisees knew they could not keep God’s Law perfectly on their own. So, what happened over many centuries was that the teachers of the Law minimized what God had called for in the Torah to the degree that they could say they kept all the laws. Jesus spoke into that in Mt 5:21-47. For example, Jesus pointed out that God’s intent was that human beings made in God’s image are not do harm to any other human beings --- for all people are made in God’s image. But, the Pharisees minimized God’s Law and said it only ruled out homicide. Then, they could say, “Well, I’ve never murdered anyone. So, I’m still right with God.”
Or in vv. 27-32, Jesus taught that God wanted people to live sexually pure lives and have faithful relationships in marriage. But, the Pharisees minimized that to one area of adultery so that they could say, “I’ve never had sex with another man’s wife so I’m OK.” One more example: In vv. 33-37, Jesus taught that God wanted people always to speak the truth. But the Pharisees reduced that to say that people only have to speak truthfully when they take an oath in heaven’s name, So, the Pharisees could say, “OK, I may tell some white lies but I’ve never lied under oath so I’m righteous!”
Jesus took up six areas of daily life in the Sermon on the Mount in order to teach us how to live well, i.e., to live as God made us to live. That’s what we’ll be focusing on this season of Lent 2020. Today, I’ll simply say that, in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declared that when God gave the Law to Moses, he surely wasn’t saying it is OK for his people to live abusive, sex-obsessed and dishonest lives and then say self-righteously, “Well, I haven’t done the really bad things that some people do, so I’m right with God.” Sadly, in spite of Jesus’s clear words in the Sermon on the Mount, many religious people have lived that way anyway. Have you ever heard the old chant, “I don’t drink and I don’t chew and I don’t go with girls who do.”
Jesus declared that this is not how we who follow him should live our lives. We should never be like the Pharisee who, in Luke 18 said (putting it into our world’s words), “I’m thankful that I’m not like those sinners in Hollywood making those awful movies -- or those kids in our public schools who listen to that horrid rap music.” That way of thinking is self-righteousness. Know this: Human self-righteousness will always fall short of the righteousness of God. In Mt 5:21, Jesus taught us that our righteousness has to go beyond that.
#2: Jesus taught us what to do -- Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48).
The point of this verse is that we, who have been made in the image of God, are to live lives that are consistent with God’s ways and with God’s character. Be assured that Jesus was not saying in this sermon that God’s laws are bad or are to be ignored. Just as importantly, Jesus was not saying we need to keep the commands even more perfectly than the Pharisees did in order to merit God’s favor. No, he knew that we could not do that – not without God’s intervention into our lives to forgive us of our failures and give a new power by which to live our lives. Jesus knew that he had come both to bear the punishment necessary for our sins and to leave us his Holy Spirit to empower us.
In this sermon, Jesus let us know that the life God wants us to live is one that reflects the ways and the heart of God. He showed us how the commands of God in the OT were to be rightly understood. They are calling us to lives free from revenge and anger-filled abuse. God’s laws, according to Jesus call us to faithfulness and purity – to honesty and trustworthiness – to love for all people, even your enemies. This is the way God is. This is the way Jesus wants us to be as his people.
This message of being aligned with God and his ways through keeping our eyes fixed on him is consistent with so many things in our daily lives that we are familiar with. I’ve sometimes had cars in which the headlights are out of alignment. Motor Trend Magazine says that, when you have that problem, you have to drive the car up close to a plain wall, shine the lights straight onto it, and then align them so that they’re straight.
Or -- in almost all organizations and businesses, people speak of the importance of all the people working there being aligned. Without fail, they tell us that alignment comes when everyone is going in the direction of a shared vision
Jesus told us in his Sermon on the Mount to keep our eyes on our perfect God and begin to align our lives with his commands, his ways, and his character.
#3: Jesus taught us what a life aligned with God looks like in daily life – “You have heard that it was said…, But I tell you… (Mt 5:21,27-28,31-32,33-34,38-39,43-44).
Between v. 21 in which Jesus said our righteousness has to be greater than the rules-centered and self-empowered way of life of the Pharisees and v. 48 calling us to a God-centered and Spirit-empowered way of life, Jesus showed us what this new way of life looks like in practice. Notice this: Jesus clearly said that both the Pharisees and Jesus’s followers share a commitment to obeying God’s commands. However, there is a huge difference in how and why these two groups were to do what God calls people to do. The Pharisees sought to do things that established their own righteousness and merited eternal life. Jesus-followers receive God’s salvation by grace through faith in Jesus and, out of gratitude for that grace, want to do whatever God calls us to do.
So, let me summarize for you how I think we move from a self-focused and self-empowered way of life toward a God-focused and Spirit-empowered way of life. I’ve put together an acrostic to help you see how you might grow in obedience to God’s commands. I’ll call it Becoming a God-aligned DOER. Using those four letters, let me show you components of it that I find helpful, i.e., Discover – Own – Eye – Refresh.
Component 1: Discover -- Continuously learn about who God is through the study of Scripture, especially the life of Jesus, and the Bible teaching within your church family.
You cannot apply to your life what you do not know. You cannot live what you have not learned. From Gen 1:1 on, God has revealed himself in Scripture. So, start with Genesis 1-2 and make note of what God makes known about himself. And, you may also want to spend time early on looking at the time God told Moses who he is and what he is like in Exo 34:6-7. When people like Jehoshaphat said, “O God, our eyes are on you,” that was often the first passage they remembered – and then applied it to whatever situation they were in.
Let me show you what God said in that passage: “I am the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin – yet not leaving the guilty unpunished… (Exo 34:6-7).”
Do you see what God declares about himself? On one hand, he is holy and just and therefore makes sure all wrongs are punished and made right. But, on the other, he is gracious, merciful and compassionate – and will forgive those who come to him in repentance and faith. This is one of the thrilling parts of being a Christian, i.e., you get to keep discovering more and more about our God who is even greater than anything you might grasp with you mind while, at the same time, loves you with an everlasting love. He is both Creator and Abba.
The alignment of our lives with God starts with this: Discovering more and more about God.
Component 2: Own – Own up to the fact that you cannot make yourself right with God on your own.
The biggest obstacle to us allowing our lives to be changed and aligned to God is our own stubbornness and pride. This was, of course, the main problem the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law had, i.e., they thought they were already achieving this perfect life – or, at least, they tried to convince everybody that they were.
This year, I have been going through a wonderful devotional by Paul Tripp, New Morning Mercies, with a group of men I love. Tripp wrote, “What you need to avoid is your delusions of strength.”
Or, to put it another way – a way I sometimes spoke of it while at a university: When you’re a senior, it’s hard to be a sophomore again! Any of you high school or college students know that’s true. A senior doesn’t want to give up living off-campus and go back to the dorms. A senior doesn’t want the lack of respect you feel like you received when you were an underclassman. The point I’m making now has really been convicting me personally over the last few months because I know I have to do constant checks on my heart to see whether my pride is getting in the way of me simply being what God wants me to be and doing whatever God wants me to do. When you’re a president, you find it hard to be a student again. When you’re a Sr. Pastor, it’s hard to be a Pastor at Large!
The Pharisees didn’t want to admit they couldn’t become righteous on their own. They worked hard to try to prove to everyone that they were righteous. But, I believe all of us here today know, deep down, that we have fallen short of God’s standard. I’m saying this to you: You need to own that. You and I need to sing daily that song by Travis Cottrell that we sang earlier:
“What love could remember no wrongs we have done; Omniscient all knowing He counts not their sum.
Thrown into a sea without bottom or shore. Our sins they are many; His mercy is more.
Stronger than darkness, new every morn. Our sins they are many; his mercy is more.”
When you lift your eyes to see him, you see that he his holy and you are not. You need to own that. Then, you will also see that Jesus has found a way to make you right with God. “Our sins they are many; his mercy is more.” Own that. Own the fact that your only hope for salvation is God’s mercy.
Component 3: Eye – Slow down and lift your eyes toward God by remembering who he is, what he is like and what he has promised to do.
This 3rd component is the beginning of a personal application of components 1and 2. You’ve owned the fact that you have areas of your life that need forgiveness and change and that you cannot do this in your own strength. But you know forgives, loves you and is ready to come into your life and be with you. You confess what is inside you and you look up to the Lord in prayer. This is what the Apostle Peter failed to do in Mt 14 when he was on the Sea of Galilee in the midst of a storm – he took his eyes off the Lord. This is what the Hebrews writer told us to do in Heb 12:1-2, “Run with perseverance the race marked out for you, fixing your eyes on Jesus”. And, this is what Jehoshaphat did when he had enemy armies at his border, “I don’t know what to do, O God, so my eyes are on you!”
Component 3 -- Get to a quiet place, slow down, get your focus off yourself and turn your eyes upon Jesus.
Step 4: Refresh – Consciously, intentionally renew your commitment to God. Tell him your life is now fully in his hands so you will go wherever he wants you to go and do what he wants you to do.
Let’s return to the Jehoshaphat story. When King Jehoshaphat lifted his eyes to the Lord, he had enemy armies at his border. But, after gazing on the Lord, he called a praise service even before the victory was won!
There is a principle here, i.e., that intentionally trusting God in the midst of trials can refresh and strengthen your faith. When you truly believe that God is at work in all things – even the trials of this world, your life can be characterized by praise instead of by worry and doubt.
When trials come, you have to decide whether your relationship with God is real or not -- and whether the God you profess to know is worthy of trust. When times are tough, you have to choose whether you will try to take control of the situation yourself, get angry with God and walk away from your faith, or trust God anew.
Do you know the story of the catfish and the codfish? Just over a century ago, codfish were in culinary demand because of their wonderful taste and flakiness. But it was hard to get them to market. When they were frozen, they lost their freshness. So, they tried shipping the fish live by turning railroad cars into huge saltwater aquariums. But, when the codfish arrived they were alive but when they were prepared they were still mushy and tasteless.
Then, someone discovered that catfish are natural enemies of codfish. So, they decided that when the codfish were put in the tanks, they would place a few catfish in with them. Those catfish chased the cod fish all the way across the country to the west coast. After shipping them that way, when the codfish was prepared, they were as flaky and flavorful as they were when they were first caught. You see, the catfish kept the cod moving and from becoming stale.
Do you have any catfish in your life today? Any uncertainties that render you unable to know what’s next? Any sins in your life that you cannot find the strength within to let go of? Do you have any challenges that seem too hard to navigate? Any troubles that seem too hard to bear? I know that it’s hard to keep your eyes on God when it feels like all hell is breaking through in your life. But, when that is your situation, learn to turn your eyes to God. He is greater than your problems. He’ll even use the problem to keep you alive in your faith.
The Bible consistently tells us that God uses times of trials to do his “perfecting work” – to help us to grow in our faith. So, when times of difficulty, failure or uncertainty come, I’m learning to view them as catfish that the Lord can use to keep me fresh in my love for him and for people. I have a few catfish in my life right now. They’re keeping me from being complacent about things. They keep pushing me back to God. For I know, that when they come, I shouldn’t just run wildly and in no direction. I need to set my gaze toward the Lord and get my life realigned with him.
We will come back to these kinds of issues in the rest of this series. So, today, I’ll end like I began, i.e., by urging you to learn to pray, “O God, I do not know what to do, but my eyes are on you,” Then tell the Lord, “I will walk toward you, O God, until your victory is complete -- until I, all God’s people, and everything in creation, are aligned with your ways and are perfect as you, O Lord, are perfect.
3千年前的猶大王約沙法這樣禱告的背景是：“摩押人和亞捫人，又有米烏尼人，一同來攻擊約沙法。” 所以約沙法禱告時說，“我們的神啊，我們也不知道怎樣行”—今天，我們也如此做— “我們的眼目單仰望你。”
#1: 耶穌教導我們不要做什麼 – “我告訴你們：你們的義若不勝於文士和法利賽人的義，斷不能進天國 (太 5:20)。”
耶穌在登山寶訓的講道中，提及了我們日常生活的六個領域來教導人們過美好生活，正如上帝造人當初所要的那樣， 也正是我們在2020大齋期的重點強調。今天我想簡單地指出，耶穌藉登山寶訓宣告，上帝賜律法給摩西，要人們知道那種欺淩，淫穢，不誠實以及自義的生活是不能接受的；人無法說“我並沒像許多其他人那樣做真正的壞事，所以我在上帝面前是沒問題的。” 可悲的是，儘管耶穌在登山寶訓中說得已經很清楚了，不少宗教人士們仍是如此行。你聽過一首老歌唱的嗎？“我不喝酒不吸毒，不像有人泡姑娘。”
#2: 耶穌教導我們要做什麼 -- “你們要完全，像你們的天父完全一樣 (太5:48) 。”
#3: 耶穌教導我們如何才是按照神的標準矯正日常生活– “你們聽見有吩咐古人的話說。。。只是我告訴你們。。(太 5:21,27-28,31-32,33-34,38-39,43-44)”
讓我在這裡為你們小結一下，我們是如何從自我關注和自我鼓勁的生活方式轉向上帝為中心和聖靈加能力的生活方式的。我會使用藏頭體（第一個字母組合）的表達方式，希望在順服上帝心意方面，對大家有所幫助，即，“成為對準上帝心意矯正的實踐者（DOER）”。這四個字母分別表達的意思是，發現（Discover）--坦承（Own）--舉目（Eye）--更新（Refresh）, i.e., Discover – Own – Eye – Refresh.
這第三要素是前兩個要素的個人性應用的開始。到此為止，你已經坦承你生命中某些領域需要被赦免，需要改變，而靠你自己的力量你無能為力；你也知道愛與饒恕已經準備好進入你的生命幫助你。你要為裡面的罪悔改，藉著禱告仰望主幫助。這正是馬太福音14章記載的使徒彼得在加利利湖暴風雨中失敗的原因—他將眼目轉離了主；正是希伯來書作者在12：1-2中告訴我們的，“奔那擺在我們前頭的路程， 仰望為我們信心創始成終的耶穌”； 也正是約沙法王在強敵壓境時所說的，“我們的神啊，我們也不知道怎樣行，我們的眼目單仰望你。”
第四步：更新 – 有意識，專注地更新你對上帝的委身。將你的生命完全交托在他手中，甘心樂意做凡他所吩咐的。