One of the oldest hymns that I know is "Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus." It has been familiar as long as I can remember.

All of us agree that we should stand for Jesus. All of us have an opinion about how Christians should stand up for Jesus. All of us have a strong opinion about what we should stand for as we stand.

Tonight I propose that we let Jesus tell us how to stand for him.

  1. Let's begin by considering Jesus' statement in Matthew 5:20.
    1. After Jesus introduced his lesson, he made this statement:
      "For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven."
      1. That is a very specific, very definite, very clear statement.
      2. We need to understand it and allow it to form our understanding of how we should stand for Jesus.
    2. First, let's focus on the statement.
      1. Jesus was born, lived, died, and was resurrected to bring into existence a spiritual kingdom that would never end.
        1. To most of us, that is not a new understanding, and we would agree that Jesus brought that spiritual kingdom into existence.
        2. Most of us would agree that a man or a woman who enters Christ immediately becomes a part of that kingdom.
      2. Jesus was specific about what was necessary to be a part of that kingdom: our righteousness must surpass the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.
      3. Who were the scribes?
        1. The scribes were the educated, trained Jewish men who had the responsibility of reproducing the Old Testament scriptures by hand.
        2. That was the only way to reproduce scriptures in a world without printing.
        3. When a new copy of an Old Testament book was needed, these men made it.
        4. They were committed to accuracy.
          1. They knew how many times each letter of the alphabet occurred in the book they copied.
          2. They knew the middle letter of each book, and they knew the middle letter of each main section in the book.
          3. They counted letters to make certain the book was accurate.
        5. Can you imagine how much knowledge of scripture they acquired as they copied books over and over?
      4. Who were the Pharisees?
        1. The Pharisees were a specific segment of Judaism who were dedicated to taking the nation of Israel back to "the old paths" of the fathers of Israel.
        2. They believed that scripture was the literal word of God, was God's complete authority, was the living word of God, and was to be applied to any situation in any age.
        3. They were literal in their study, literal in their application, and committed to the true meaning and intent of scripture.
        4. They were the dominant religious influence in Israel.
        5. Jesus himself paid this tribute to their knowledge: "The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore, all that they tell you, do and observe..." (Matthew 23:2,3).
        6. The Pharisees' spiritual problems were not rooted in their knowledge.
    3. Jesus specifically said that our righteousness must exceed their righteousness.
      1. That will not happen through knowledge--our knowledge of scripture does not exceed their knowledge of scripture.
      2. That will not happen through obedience to commands and traditions--our obedience rarely equals their obedience.
      3. That will not happen through a commitment to preserving our heritage and traditions--they were experts in preserving religious tradition and heritage.
      4. Then how will we exceed their righteousness? Jesus told us how to do that in Matthew 5.

  2. Jesus contrasted the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees with the righteousness of those who followed him by using two phrases: "You have heard that it was said" and "I say unto you."
    1. These two phrases contrasted two concepts of righteousness.
      1. "You have heard that it was said" reflected the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.
      2. "I say unto you" reflected the righteousness of those who followed Jesus.
    2. Contrast number one: Matthew 5:21-26.
      1. You have heard that the ancients were told, "You shall not commit murder."
        1. You obey that standard by not murdering.
        2. If you do not physically destroy someone's life with intent and purpose, you meet the standard of the scribes and Pharisees' righteousness.
      2. Jesus declared, "But I say to you:"
        1. Do not be angry at others.
        2. Do not hold others in contempt ("Raca" declared contempt).
        3. Do not slander others (calling someone a fool slandered him).
      3. Further, Jesus said, before you approach God in worship, make peace with any brother that you have offended.
    3. Contrast number two: Matthew 5:27-32.
      1. You have heard that it was said, "Do not commit the physical act of adultery."
        1. Refrain from sexual intercourse with anyone but your husband or wife.
        2. As long as a person did not physically commit adultery, he meet the standard of the scribes and Pharisees' righteousness.
      2. But I say to you:
        1. Adultery involves more than the physical act.
        2. Do not indulge your sexual desires through your eyes.
        3. Don't look at women as non-persons, as creatures who exist to indulge the fantasies of your imagination.
        4. Moses gave the divorce laws to protect women.
          1. Moses would not permit you to desert your wife.
          2. If you left her, you had to inform her that you were leaving her.
          3. You had to inform her in front of witnesses in writing.
        5. I tell you when you marry a wife, you make a covenant with her.
        6. Keep your covenant.
        7. Abandoning your covenant is also adultery.
    4. Contrast number three: Matthew 5:33-37.
      1. The ancients were told, "Do not make false promises; do what you promised God that you would do."
        1. As long as you technically did what you said you would do, you met the scribes and Pharisees' standard of righteousness.
        2. But they placed a heavy emphasis on technicalities.
      2. But I say to you:
        1. Be a person who keeps his word.
        2. The scribes and Pharisees said technicalities voided a promise, so you could deceive someone or break a promise if you did it the right way.
        3. I say, keep your promises--even if you are not legally liable.
        4. When you say, "Yes," mean yes, and when you say, "No," mean no.
    5. Contrast number four: Matthew 5:38-42.
      1. You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."
        1. As long as you did not exceed justice, you met the scribes and Pharisees' standard of righteousness.
        2. It is fine to make the offending person pay the full price of justice, but do not be vengeful.
      2. But I say:
        1. Be ruled by kindness, not by justice.
        2. Be ruled by humility, not by justice.
        3. Do more than is expected of you.
    6. Contrast number five: Matthew 5:43-48.
      1. You have heard that it was said, "Love your neighbor, and hate your enemy."
        1. If you did that, you met the scribes and Pharisees' standard of righteousness.
        2. By their standard, that is the maximum.
      2. But I say:
        1. Love your neighbor, and love your enemy.
        2. Pray for those that physically abuse you.
        3. Treat your human enemies like God treats His human enemies, and that will make you God's sons.
        4. If you are mean to people who are mean to you, and if you are good to people who are good to you, then you are just like everybody else.
        5. God's love is to be your standard.

  3. Recently I enjoyed a very profitable, private conversation.
    1. In this conversation, a Christian friend shared a thought that powerfully illustrates the point.
      1. As Christians, we have not learned the difference between redemption and godly character.
        1. Redemption is a gift from God that comes to us through Jesus' blood.
          1. It blesses us through forgiveness.
          2. Because of redemption, we receive mercy and grace.
        2. Godly character is built.
          1. Godly character is built after we have been redeemed.
          2. It is not a gift and does not come automatically.
          3. It exists when we develop godly behavior.
      2. Is redemption real? Absolutely!
        1. When is redemption real?
        2. The moment we enter Christ; the moment we chose by faith and repentance to join Jesus in his death, burial, and resurrection.
      3. At that moment do we suddenly have godly character?
        1. No.
        2. There is a lot of evil to be killed in our lives.
        3. There is a lot to learn from Jesus.
        4. There is a whole new value system to build and live by.
    2. Our failure to understand that truth often costs us dearly in the church.
      1. Some Christians think that standing for the church is standing for Jesus.
      2. Some Christians are convinced that they can stand for the church and:
        1. Be angry with fellow Christians.
        2. Hold Christians they disagree with in contempt.
        3. Slander Christians they regard to be enemies.
        4. Regard it an act of faith not to seek peace.
      3. Some Christian men are convinced that they can be fine Christians and:
        1. Look at women as impersonal, sexual objects.
        2. Indulge their sexual desires through their eyes.
        3. Break promises by using carefully crafted technicalities.
        4. Be ruled by justice instead of kindness and humility.
        5. Regard doing more than is expected as a sign or weakness.
      4. Some Christians think that you represent the church well when:
        1. You are committed to justice in and out of the church.
        2. You love those that like you.
        3. You hate those that oppose you.

We stand for Jesus by exceeding the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. We stand for Jesus by becoming men and women of godly character.

When we accept the gift of redemption, we must commit ourselves to godly character. When we don't, we create all types of problems within the church. Then people outside the church see us as looking like everyone else. When we look like other people without character, they reject redemption.

May we rejoice in our redemption. May we pursue godly character. May we stand for Jesus by exceeding the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.

Are you growing?
Are you growing in the right direction?
Do you need God's redemption?
It is available free to everyone who wants it.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Wednesday Evening Sermon, 22 April 1998

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