Thursday, October 13, 2011

Seek first his Kingdom: What's Righteousness?

Seek first God’s Kingdom and his righteousness, and all things will be given unto you as well.”  Matthew 6:33
Righteousness.  It’s a familiar term in Christian circles, but what does it really mean?  I’ve been asking people what they think it means and I am getting a lot of different responses:  living rightly, wearing God’s righteous robe, self -justification, the work Jesus did on the cross, judgment.  You get the idea:  everyone has an opinion, but today let’s look at God’s definition of righteousness.

The Hebrew and Greek definition of “righteousness” mean “action in conformity with an accepted and approved standard.”  In the Bible, this usage is God’s standard, which is God himself.  His nature is holy, so righteousness is living by God’s holy standard. 

In the Old Testament, this standard was the law.  All the Israelites knew that they couldn’t live up to the requirement of the law so they sacrificed animals to make themselves right with God.  They knew that the blood of the animal brought God’s forgiveness so they could continue to live in relationship with the holy God they served.

In the New Testament, the Pharisees organized themselves to help their Jewish culture live into the law.  The Israelites hadn’t heard from God for over 400 years and they continued to live in exile in the sense that they had governments ruling over them, they were not the ones ruling over the other countries.  So, the Pharisees mission was to help purify the Jews that the long awaited Messiah would come.

And, the long awaited Messiah did come, but they missed him because the “righteous standard” he brought didn’t involve a long list of rules for how to keep the Sabbath, but how to connect with the God of the Sabbath through belief and relationship.

Jesus continued to frustrate and infuriate the Pharisees through breaking their laws.  He healed people on the Sabbath, which in their mind constituted working. 
He hung out with people of poor reputation, which to them was defiling his body. 
He crossed their purity boundaries by talking to and taking water from a Samaritan woman; both big no-no’s to the Pharisees and their rules.

It seems that Jesus pointed us to the reality that it is through our faith in his identity that we are made righteous. 
When we acknowledge that he is God’s Son, we literally receive righteousness by the reality of Holy Spirit entering into our body to seal us for salvation and to give us power to live a “righteous life.”
I was at the Pastor’s retreat last week and had the privilege of hearing former Covenant seminary president Jay Phelan speak on the kingdom of God.  He defined righteousness as “making things right.” 

Jesus came to be God’s instrument for setting things right.  His blood shed and death set things right for us to be in relationship with him.  There was no longer a need for animal sacrifice as Jesus’ sacrifice fulfilled God’s righteous requirement for humanity.

So, we are given God’s righteousness, but the call of Matthew 6:33 is for us to seek first Gods’ kingdom and his righteousness. 
Once we receive it from God, how do we then go and bring it to the world?

Paul tells us in Romans 6 that we are to “offer our bodies to God as instrument as righteousness.” 
Our faith is to translate to action. 
James tells us that faith without action is dead.  We are to act; we are to bring righteousness to the world.  We are to bring justice, compassion, mercy and love into situations that are void of God’s presence.  We are to be about bringing heaven to earth.
Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s prayer:  “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”   

As we seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, we are to discover the ways that he has created us, gifted and equipped us to go as his kingdom representatives to set things right on earth, just as they exist in heaven.

So, what does that mean for you? 
Where do you walk out your vocation? 
Is it in business?  How can you set things right in your garden, the place where God has given you presence and responsibility?  In many ways, the “Occupy” movement is about just this:  they want to see the American financial system set right.
Are you in education?  How can you set things right by teaching children?  Perhaps you are bringing kingdom principles into your classroom.  Is it equipping parents to raise their children up with godly characteristics.  Perhaps it is writing a book that opens up our thinking on how to live as an instrument of righteousness.

Are you raising your children?  How can you structure your family life so that your focus is on God’s ways, rather than the ways of our competitive culture?  Perhaps it is inviting other children into your family life so they experience the heart of God in action.
It doesn’t matter where we are; it only matters that we set our priorities to “seek first God’s kingdom on earth as we offer our bodies as instruments of righteousness that set things right.”  It won’t be easy, the thief will try to thwart our movement in this direction, but it will be important.

We each have a special place on earth; it is to bring God’s heart, his life and his priorities to the world around us.  As we take these steps, we discover that his promise of the all things comes true as well.
I challenge you this week to ask God to show you how his righteousness in you can be brought to your world in tangible ways that help “set things right as the ways of heaven become the way of the earth.”

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