Matthew 5:43-48

I want to begin this evening by giving you a problem to solve. Think about it. Be honest with yourself. Refuse to deceive yourself. You certainly do not have to share your solution, but work on a solution.

I once lived in a society that permitted no physical contact between men and women in public. Any form of public physical contact between a man and a woman meant they were not married, but they were sexually involved. Acceptable public physical contact occurred between good friends of the same sex. It was common to see two men walking together holding hands. Because women were so busy when in public [caring for children or preparing for market], you actually saw more men who were friends walking, holding hands. But both were acceptable.

People had so many documents to be physically carried on their person that men often traveled carrying purses. There were frequent roadblocks, and at each roadblock you were required to produce any document the police requested. The convenient way for men to address the situation was to carry all their documents in a purse. It was common to see men traveling carrying purses.

Prostitutes were the only women who wore pants of any kind. Any woman who wore pants of any kind [jeans, slacks, etc.] was immediately understood to be practicing prostitution. Unless you were in a major city where prostitutes wore shorts, women did not wear shorts of any kind.

Your reason for being in this society is to teach people about God and Jesus Christ. You want people to better understand God and Jesus Christ. You want them to develop their understanding from watching your everyday behavior and from listening to what you said.

This is the problem I want you to solve: if you are a single lady, a wife, or the father of a teenage daughter, what do you do? Would the women in your household wear pants in public? Would you hold hands with or touch your wife in public? Would you condemn men for holding hands and carrying purses? How would you behave in public?

At that same time, in our American society if a woman wore jeans or slacks did that mean she was a prostitute? No. At that time, in our society did women wear jeans or slacks? Yes. If men held hands in public and carried purses, what did that mean? In our society, it meant they were homosexually involved. In our society, did dating couples or married couples touch each other in public? Yes.

If you lived in that society and wanted to teach them a correct view of God, what would you do? Would you say, "Those standards are stupid! To attach such significance to such actions is ridiculous! They are obligated to understand me! I am not obligated to follow their customs!"

Or, would you say, "If they misunderstand my behavior and personal conduct, they will misunderstand my God. If I do things they regard to be sexual proclamations, they will assume my God approves of sexual promiscuity. What I wear and how I behave will be conscious of and sensitive to their thoughts and reactions."

  1. For the Christian, God is his or her standard.
    1. The Christian has these understandings.
      1. Every moment of life in every context and every situation, I represent God.
      2. People will develop more of their concepts about my God from my behavior than from my words.
      3. The best way to properly represent God is to understand Jesus.
        1. Jesus perfectly represented God.
        2. The better I understand Jesus and allow Jesus' attitudes and principles to be my role model, the better I will represent God.
      4. That is every Christian's fundamental commitment: to use my behavior and my words to help people better understand God.
    2. Lest you think this is just "preacher talk" that I share to push a personal agenda, listen carefully to Jesus in Matthew 5:43-48.
      You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
      1. I ask you to focus on two things in Jesus' statement.
      2. The first thing: people who follow God with understanding are different.
        1. They do not hate their enemies and love their friends.
        2. Everyone else does that, but they don't.
        3. They simply do not act like everyone else even when it comes to enemies.
        4. Reactions to enemies come as close to being "a standard negative" in all cultures among all people as any common behavior/reaction you can name.
      3. The second thing: people who follow God are different because they act like God acts.
        1. Let's stay with Jesus' enemy illustration of how our righteousness must surpass the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.
        2. How does God treat His enemies?
          1. People became God's enemy by completely perverting God's "very good" creation through rebellion (Genesis 1:31; 3:1-7).
          2. People went from bad to worse until evil was in complete control of human conduct (Genesis 6:5,6).
          3. God struggled against evil to create Israel.
          4. God struggled against evil in Israel to generate conditions that would allow Him to send His son.
          5. God allowed His creation to reject and kill His son.
          6. God resurrected His son from the dead to give his enemies hope.
          7. God used Jesus' crucifixion and Jesus' resurrection to allow His enemies to become His children.
        3. We have never done as much for one of our enemies as God did for all His enemies.
      4. If we let God be our standard, how will we act toward enemies, toward those who cause us harm? We will love them and pray for them.
        1. Even the most ungodly people love people who love them and hate people who hate them.
        2. There is no spiritual reward in a lifestyle that loves people who love us.
        3. There is no spiritual reward in a lifestyle that gives acceptance to people we like--even the people who do not know the living God exists do that.
        4. The Christian's goal cannot be to look and act like godless people.
      5. God is different.
        1. He made the sun, but He lets the sun rise for people who hate him as well as people who love him.
        2. He lets the rains bless evil people as well as godly people.
      6. God's spiritual maturity is the standard for all those who belong to God.

  2. The fact that God Himself is the standard for the people who choose to follow and belong to Him has always been true.
    1. Leviticus 19:2
      Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy."
    2. 2 Corinthians 7:1
      Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
    3. 1 Peter 1:13-21
      Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

  3. Consider the moment and circumstances when Jesus made his statement.
    1. Jesus very clearly stated in Matthew 5:20 in the same lesson that the righteousness of the hearers had to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.
      1. Have you considered what an astounding statement that was?
      2. Jesus said the scribes and Pharisees did not represent God.
        1. If they listened to the scribes and the Pharisees they would come to wrong conclusions about God.
        2. If they patterned their lives after the lives of the scribes and Pharisees their lives would not reveal God's priorities and standards.
      3. Wow!
    2. Who were these guys, the scribes and the Pharisees?
      1. The Pharisees:
        1. Were dedicated to ritual purity.
        2. Were dedicated to Scripture as God's word and gave their understanding of "thus says the Lord" to authorize and authenticate everything they did.
        3. Wore clothing and titles that declared they were religious men who were men of the book.
        4. Were men who knew what scripture said so well that they were convinced that they could pass judgment on everyone else's beliefs and behaviors.
        5. And they did not represent God! If you listened to them and followed them, you would not act like God wants you to act.
        6. If you listened to them, you would hate your enemies and love those who loved you.
      2. The scribes:
        1. Among other things, made copies of Scripture.
        2. Were technical experts in God's Word because they made and proofed the copies.
        3. Could tell you how many times every letter of the alphabet occurred in any given book in Scripture.
        4. Knew where the smallest marks went--every dot and dash.
        5. But they did not represent God! If you listened to what they said and followed their example, your life would not show people what God wanted.
        6. If you followed them, you would hate your enemies and love those who loved you.
    3. Let me ask all of us some hard questions.
      1. What does holiness look like? Would people know what holiness looked like if they listened to us and watched our lives?
      2. What does purity look like? Would people know what purity looked like if they listened to us and watched our lives?
      3. What does godliness look like? Would people know what godliness looked like if they listened to us and watch our lives?

Do you have any idea of how much God puts up with in this world every single hour of every single day because He wants His enemies to become His children? And I have the gall to tell God what I will not put up with?

God not only puts up with it, but when we become His children, He forgives it! He treats it with mercy! He looks at us with grace! He loves the ugly and unlovable!

May I share with you one of the greatest heartaches of spiritually growing and honestly reaching for spiritual maturity? The more I mature the more aware I become of the grief I have caused God and do cause God. And God's love is so great He just asks, "Allow Me be your standard. Represent me conscientiously."

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 5 August 2001
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