“Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” That is the key verse for today’s message, based on some of what the Bible teaches about the challenge to be righteous.
“Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” That is what is recorded in Matthew 6:33. It features the challenge that we do what we can… As will be discussed later, that is not enough. We cannot be righteous on our own. We are to engage the help of God. But the challenge is that we will work with God to be righteous.
What does being righteous mean? It is doing what is right. What is right according to God. Everything God did and does, everything Jesus did, everything the Holy Spirit does is fair and correct. That is what we are to do. Everything we do is to be right, fair, and correct, based on God’s law, which we have in the Bible, and on God’s will, which we can know through prayer.
To put the key verse in context, it comes in the middle part of Jesus’ Sermon the Mount, in which the Lord gave many, many teachings about how He wants His people to live.
Right before today’s key verse, Jesus addressed the issue of anxiety. As we know, there is always the possibility of being anxious - of being overly concerned - about things like food and water and clothing. I mean, right now things are financially stable, but what if the economy collapses? What if money becomes scarce? It is scary to think of stability ending.
There can be anxieties about the material things of life. I can relate to that. I sometimes experience that, which is why I try to remind myself of Jesus’ teaching to not be overly concerned about such things. He said, “Do not be anxious.”
Jesus gives reasons to not be anxious. “The birds of the air neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, yet they are fed.” They are fed by God. “The lilies of the field neither toil nor spin, yet God clothes them, doing so to greater beauty than even Solomon, in all his glory, was dressed.”
Jesus went on to chide those who were anxious, which means He chides me, at least from time to time. He said, “O you of little faith [ouch], do not worry.” Instead - here is the key verse again - “seek ye first the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness.” Concentrate on those things instead of on being anxious. Do that and - here is a wonderful promise - “all these things [food, water, and clothing] shall be yours as well.”
What is to be our goal? Not the material things of this world, as important as they are. We need food and we need water and we need clothing. But our goal is not to be those things. Our goal is to be seeking God - His Kingdom and His righteousness. Seeking to know examples of Him being right, fair, and correct, and working with Him so we, too, can be right, fair, and correct according to His law and will.
Which takes us to an Old Testament passage. Psalm 15. A psalm of David that opens with two questions. “O LORD, who shall sojourn [who shall dwell] in Your tent? Who shall dwell on Thy holy hill?” In other words, God, who is worthy to associate with You?
Putting that with today’s key verse, to be worthy of associating with God, we must be righteous. But what does that mean? The rest of Psalm 15 provides many descriptions.
“He who walks blamelessly.” He who lives day-by-day according to God’s teachings, which of course means we must study the Bible to know His teachings. But when we do, walking blamelessly means obeying those teachings about what we do and say and think.
In a commentary on this verse, there is the reminder of the desire that God will walk before us, thereby showing us the way we are to go. That is needed for us to walk blamelessly. Uprightly is another translation. But we need to follow God. When we do, we walk blamelessly.
Who is worthy of associating with God? “He [of course, this applies to shes as well] who does what is right.” Right according to God, which we know because of the Bible, which again reminds us we need to study the Bible so we will know what God says is right.
“He who speaks truth from his heart.” “From his heart” is important wording. We are not to just talk to be talking. We are not to just say what we think we should say. We are to speak truth from our hearts, which means we are to believe what is true.
Guess what. That means we need to study the Bible so we will know God’s truth. However, when we know it, we need to believe it. Believe it in our hearts. Then we are to speak nothing but what is the truth.
“He who does not slander with his tongue. He who does no evil to his friend. He who does not take up a reproach against his neighbor.” These three speak of treating other people according to the Golden Rule of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Do you like to be criticized or ridiculed or insulted or falsely accused or stolen from or ignored or injured physically or verbally? I doubt it. I certainly do not like to be treated in any of those ways. So we need to be careful to not do any of those things to or against others.
Who is worthy of associating with God? “He [or she] in whose eyes a reprobate is despised.” A reprobate is defined as an unprincipled sinner. A person who does not obey God’s teachings. Someone who has no intention of even knowing God’s teachings.
Listen. This does not teach that we are to hate a person who is a reprobate. That would preclude us from trying to change that person’s outlook. What this does mean is that we are not to envy reprobates. We are not to be jealous of whatever gains they make in money or position or popularity because of their sins.
Who is worthy? “He in whose eyes a reprobate is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD.” It is those who honor and respect God who are to be our closest friends. It is them we are to care for, helping them and allowing them to help us to remain strong in our faith.
“He who swears to his own hurt and does not change.” That refers to doing what is promised to do, even if following through might cause some discomfort in some way. I am thinking of promising to help someone, say financially, then discovering there is a shortfall of funds, yet helping anyway because it was promised.
There is a sub-teaching that we need to be careful what we promise, but the point is that our words - our promises - are to be sacred. We are to do what we say we will do.
“He who does not put out his money at interest.” Putting money out at interest for business reasons seems to be OK. This refers to helping the poor and then demanding interest. That is what is wrong. Gifts to the poor should not be expected to be paid back at all. At least there is to be no interest charged. Interest would simply make the poor poorer .
“He who does not take a bribe against the innocent.” I guess that was a practice that used to be done. Maybe it still is today some places. It is taking money to testify against someone who is innocent is obviously wrong.
Who is worthy of associating with God? Those who are righteous. Those who walk blamelessly, do what is right, speak the truth from their hearts, do not slander or do evil to or reproach a friend or neighbor, who despise sins but honor those who fear the LORD, who do what they say they will do, who do not attach interest to help they give, who do not take bribes.
The last part of Psalm 15. He or she who does these things “shall never be moved.”They will remain righteous.
Can Psalm 15 be achieved? Can any of us be all the things listed in the Psalm. As already discussed, on our own, no. But with God, yes. With the Holy Spirit, yes. With Jesus, yes. Concerning Jesus, let’s move to something He said about righteousness. Matthew 5:20.
That verse is also included in the Sermon on the Mount - closer to the beginning of the sermon - Jesus said, I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
That is an amazing statement because of the great respect those two groups of Jewish religious leaders were given.
Scribes were dedicated to accurately recording, not only all the Old Testament laws of God, but also all the rules and regulations Jewish leaders had developed over the centuries. Rules and regulations they thought were needed so God’s laws could be understood. It seems to me God’s laws are clear enough, but the Jewish leaders had, over time, come up with highly detailed explanations of what God meant and what was needed to fully obey each of God’s laws.
The scribes kept track of all that. Pharisees were devoted to knowing and following all those laws and rules and regulations. They were totally dedicated to being obedient to all that.
It certainly seemed scribes and Pharisees were righteous, but, Jesus taught, they were not. They were not righteous because they were more concerned about their rules and regulations than they were about other people, which caused them - this goes back to Psalm 15 - to slander those who were less devoted than them to rules and regulations and to seek to do evil to those not as concerned about the rules and regulations as they were.
Scribes and Pharisees were dedicated, but they lacked righteousness because they did not love people. They were not interested in loving others enough to lead them to a good, positive relationship with God. They certainly did nothing to lead people to Jesus, who they saw, not as the Savior, but as a threat to their power and authority
It is OK to be dedicated to religious practices, but, Jesus said, there is more to being righteous, which we must be to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. So again, the key verse for today. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” That is critical in receiving what is needed here on earth, like food, water, and clothing. It is critical to eventually enter Heaven. “Seek ye first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness.” Know what His righteousness means. What it looks like in being right and fair and correct. With His help, live likewise.
The only way to accomplish that, we will talk about that in a moment. Before that, I looked online for some modern day examples of being righteous. What I found was a list of behaviors. Some we have already discussed, but the repetition will be a good reminder.
Put yourself in the perspective of another person. Be kind to them as you would want to be treated if you were that person. For instance, you probably do not want to be gossiped about. Do not gossip about that person. If you are sad, you might want to be cheered up. Try to cheer up someone else.
Have respect for other people. For instance, do not cut people off when they are speaking. You do not like to be cut off, do you? If you are like me, when that happens, I often forget what I was talking about. Being cut off is annoying. Not cutting off others is a sign of respect, which is an example of righteousness because God wants us to be respectful of others.
If you see someone who needs help, help that person.
Try not to be jealous of anyone.
Do not brag because that might cause someone else to be jealous of you.
Those are just a few examples of being righteous, but back to the point of the only way to accomplish being righteous, the fourth passage for this message. II Corinthians 5:21.
Paul wrote these words. “For our sake, God made Him [God made Jesus] to be sin, who knew no sin, so that in Him [in Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God.”
What meaningful words. Words that remind us that we cannot, on our own, be righteous. We cannot, on our own, be as right, fair, and correct as God. We cannot, on our own, know and obey God’s law and will. That is because of sin.
But almost 2000 years ago, Jesus took our sin. All our sins. He was perfect. Jesus never committed any sin of any kind. But He took on our sins when He was nailed to the cross. When He died on the cross, Jesus became the sacrifice for our sins.
When we accept Jesus as the Savior - as our Savior - when we accept His sacrifice, it is then we can be righteous, as God was righteous. Perfect? Not yet. But having the desire to move closer and closer to living in ways that are right according to God.
The question, of course, is this. Do you believe in Jesus? Have you accepted Him as your Savior? If not, will you? Then and only then will you want to be righteous. Then and only then can you be righteous.
If you have accepted Jesus, rejoice that you - and I - are at least moving toward righteousness. If not, accept Jesus and join the movement.
Think about that as we sing today’s closing song. 9 is the chorus Take My Life. It begins with the reminder to be righteous, which we should want to be. The second verse reminds of the need to have faith. Faith is needed so we can be righteous. The third verse is the call to be holy. To be different enough from the world that we can know and obey God’s law and will.
Righteousness, righteousness is what I long for.
Righteousness is what I need.
Righteousness, righteousness is what You want from me.
Take my heart and form it.
Take my mind, transform it.
Take my will, conform it
To Yours, to Yours, O Lord.
Faithfulness, faithfulness is what I long for.
Faithfulness is what I need.
Faithfulness, faithfulness is what You want from me.
Take my heart and form it.
Take my mind, transform it.
Take my will, conform it
To Yours, to Yours, O Lord.
Holiness, holiness is what I long for.
Holiness is what I need.
Holiness, holiness is what You want from me.
Lord, help us to want to be righteous. Help us to accomplish being righteous. Help us to know and obey Your law and Your will. It is possible through acceptance of You, the one who is Yourself righteous. Thank You. Amen.