Self-righteousness

“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

The above saying of Jesus introduces within its context the fact that the Scribes and Pharisees had devised their own system of salvation based not upon the teaching of scripture, but upon the doctrines and traditions of the rabbis. Jesus illustrates this in the next few verses by pointing out to those who were listening, “You have heard that it has been said�.” He uses this phrase in verses 23, 27, 31, 33, 38, and 43. After he tells us the phrase that was heard in rabbinical Judaism, he then exposes the fallacy of the use of such phrases to create a system of one’s own righteousness. The Scribes and Pharisees were guilty of creating such a system.

Jesus calls attention to this system more than once and in Matthew 15 comes into direct conflict with it. The Scribes and Pharisees here ask Jesus why he transgressed “the tradition of the elders.” In response, Jesus asked them why they transgressed “the commandment of God because of your tradition?” Their concern was not to submit to the commandments of God, but to devise ways in which one could excuse oneself from such commandments. In this way, they created a righteousness of their own.

One should recognize in this that it was not so much a system of salvation that Jesus was rejecting, but rather, a system of salvation that was based upon traditions that set aside the word of God and that replaced the righteousness contained within the legitimate observance of God’s word with a righteousness devised by mere men. Romans 10:1-3 teaches this quite clearly. “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.”

There are those today who suggest that the idea of having ANY system whereby one may suggest that one is righteous, is an effort to establish one’s own righteousness. This, however, is NOT what Jesus taught. Jesus taught that the system of righteousness by which the Scribes and Pharisees proclaimed their own righteousness must be EXCEEDED for one to be righteous. And truly, we have a system of righteousness by which we must be saved today and which exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees. Romans 1:16, 17 states, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.'” God’s righteousness today is found in the gospel.

To hear what many say today regarding the subject of righteousness, one would think that there is nothing that one may do, whether given by God or not, that is involved in making man righteous. Such is not the case. The fact of the matter is that one may be righteous when one follows the system of righteousness that has been given to us by God. John writes, “Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous” (1 John 3:7). It is not in the fact that one accepts God’s system of righteousness and follows it that one is self-righteous, but rather, when one invents/devises one’s own system of righteousness that one is self-righteous. This is what the Scribes and Pharisees did. They invented/devised their own system of righteousness.

There are those today who say that because we worship upon the first day of the week, partake of the Lord’s supper upon the first day of the week, refuse to use instruments of music, suggest that the church has a system of worship which she must do, that the church has an organization that we must observe, that the church has a mission which she must keep, and many other things�that because we demand that such things be practiced and observed, that we are creating a righteousness of our own, that we are creating a system of righteousness which God did not create. Such is not the case. In fact, it is just the opposite. The things that we demand that others observe and practice are things that are found within God’s word. In contrast, it is those who suggest that we NOT practice such things that set aside the word of God that they may keep their own tradition.

Where, within the scriptures, is it suggested that the Lord’s supper may, by the church, be observed upon any day other than the first day of the week? There is no such passage. However, those who suggest that we may so observe the supper state that it is due only to our “tradition” that the Lord’s supper be observed upon Sunday. What they fail to recognize was that the scriptures record that the Lord’s supper was observed by the church upon Sunday (Acts 20:7), and not upon any other day of the week. Those who suggest that we may observe the Lord’s supper upon some other day of the week, transgress the word of God to keep their own traditions.

Where, within the scriptures, is it suggested that singing, by the church, may be performed as accompanied by mechanical instruments of music? There is no such passage. However, those who suggest that we so sing without their accompaniment, suggest that it is only due to our “tradition” that we do not use the instrument. Again, these fail to recognize that the scriptures record that the church sang praises to God (1 Cor.14:15; Col.3:16) and that nowhere in scripture is it recorded that they played instruments. Those who suggest that we may sing praises to God as accompanied by the instrument transgress the word of God to keep their own traditions.

Example upon example could be multiplied to show that it is in actuality those who suggest that we abandon our scriptural practices who are seeking to transgress the word of God so that they can keep their own traditions. We wonder, who is seeking to establish their own righteousness and who is seeking to submit to the righteousness of God? If we desire for our righteousness to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, then we will be satisfied with the answers that we find within the word of God, and not seek to supplant such answers with the traditions of men.

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Love and Loving God

When my wife and I got married close to thirteen years ago and my parents asked us why we wanted to get married, we replied, “because we love each other.” I will never forget the words that my dad told me that day. He said that we had a love, but that we really did not know what it meant to love each other, but that as the years went by, we would learn more and more of what it means to truly love one another. I confess that I did not completely understand what he meant at the time. However, thirteen years later, I think I am beginning to understand. Loving another person doesn’t just mean that you have “positive feelings” toward them all the time. It means that whatever feelings you do have for another person, whether those feelings are positive or negative, you do not forsake that other person; you remain steadfast, loyal, and true regardless of what comes your way, and always seek the best for that person (as God defines “best”) regardless of their circumstances.

This past week, I received e-mail from our web site in which the questioner stated, “I am not in love with my husband.” It was sad for me to read that statement. Part of the reason that such a statement is made is that people in our society today simply do not understand what the word “love” truly means. And so, when they stop having the “feelings” of love, then they assume that they no longer “love” someone. Such does not have to be the case. I don’t have tremendously wonderful feelings for my enemies, but I must love them nonetheless (Matthew 5:44-48). Could we not then love those who, while they do not engender the greatest of feelings, nevertheless are undoubtedly not our enemies? Surely if loving our enemies means being children of our Father in heaven, we can love those who are undoubtedly not our enemies.

Society, however, places a premium not upon this kind of love, but upon the kind of love that is defined by emotion only. If there is no emotion, then there is no love. It is no wonder that we see so many in our society today who seek for divorce due to “incompatibility.” They are “incompatible” because they do not want to be compatible; because they do not want to do what it really takes to love someone else. Jesus’ words on the subject ring loud and true, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6). I’m convinced that the reason Jesus said this was because if we can love our enemies, then we can certainly love our spouse. There is, therefore, no excuse for divorce, save for the one Jesus himself gave (Matthew 19:9).

Not only, however, does society define love as mere emotion in the marriage relationship, but in many of our relationships today. One is said not to love his friend if he opposes something that his friend desires to have in his life and bad feelings result from that opposition. One is said not to be loving his fellow man if one points out wrong behavior and incorrect attitudes in another person, due to the negative feelings that one has as a result from having to face one’s own problems/mistakes. Even among those who claim to be Christians, if one does not project a positive, sappy, syrupy emotionalism toward his fellow Christian, then one is immediately labeled as being “unloving.”

This “unloving” label often comes as a result of someone pointing out that another is either not living right, or is incorrect in some point of doctrine or religious practice. However, in such a situation, the “unloving” label begs the question, “Should one love his fellow man above God?” The immediate answer to that is, of course, no (Mark 12:30). However, is this not, in essence, what one is saying in response to someone who is seeking to resolve incorrect beliefs or behavior? “If you make me feel bad about my spiritual condition, or practices, then you just don’t love me.” What about loving God first? The very fact that God demands that we love Him above all others means that there are going to be some whose feelings that we have to hurt in order to please God. It doesn’t mean that we intentionally want to hurt other people’s feelings, or that we even like to hurt other people’s feelings. It is merely a matter of doing what is right in the eyes of God.

One cannot sustain love as mere emotion and love God in the way that God demands that we love Him. Sooner or later, God’s will is going to come into conflict with those emotions. If we take, as our foundation, love to be mere emotion, we will end up compromising God’s will in the long run. However, if we understand that true love involves more than mere emotion, then when the emotions come, whether good or bad, we will stay with our commitment to God and His will. It is upon these grounds that Jesus can demand of us, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15, see also 1 John 5:3).

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The Lower Lights

By Kevin Cauley

On our recent trip to Maine, we had the opportunity to see several lighthouses. One we were able to visit up close as it was located within the boundaries of the national park and accessible by car. This particular lighthouse was not one of the tall, stately, and grand lighthouses that one is accustomed to think about when considering lighthouses, but rather, a shorter light. There were several of these lighthouses around the island on which we stayed. The tallest of the light houses around was out on another island inaccessible by car far out in the sea on Baker Island. These various light houses reminded me of the song, “Let the Lower Lights Be Burning” written by Philip P. Bliss, 1871. The song is as follows:

Brightly beams our Father’s mercy
From His lighthouse evermore,
But to us he gives the keeping
Of the lights along the shore.

Dark the night of sin has settled,
Loud the angry billows roar;
Eager eyes are watching, longing,
For the lights along the shore.

Trim your feeble lam, my brother:
Some poor sailor tempest tossed,
Trying now to make the harbor,
In the darkness may be lost.

Let the lower lights be burning!
Send a gleam across the wave!
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman
You may rescue, you may save.

The lyrics of the song are instructive to us today. God’s great grace, love, and mercy is the greater light which shines for all to see into the distant and far ocean of sin. He draws the lost from the great darkness that is around them and leads them toward the safety of harbor. Those souls, however, as they near shore need additional guidance to finally make it safely in. These “harbor lights” are what allows them to dock and set foot on shore. God is the greater light, but Christians are these lesser, harbor lights, who use the light which God gives them, through teaching and influence, to illuminate others to the safe shore.

What can we do for those around us who are in darkness and struggling to come to the shore? We can love them by extending help and aid to those approaching the shore. Matthew 22:39 states, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” We can provide the right example for those around us to encourage them to extend their lights to those in need of rescue. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul writes, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” We can keep our lights pure and holy so that they will shine bright and not grow dim. James 1:27 states, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

Jesus said in the great sermon on the mount, “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16).

We have a choice before us. We can either let our light shine, or we can hide it. If we hide our light, then it does no one any good at all, including ourselves. However, if we let our light shine, then we have a great opportunity to glorify God. The few things listed above are just some things that one may do to let his light shine. There are many more. What are you doing to let your light shine? Find something, anything, that you can do to let your light shine and then SHINE!

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