Thought for the day on Matt 3-5 – 18 Jan 2013

I was reading Matt 3-5, and it stood out to me how Jesus described righteousness:

  • Matt 3:15 “…for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” (fulfill = make replete, cram, level up)
  • Matt 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…”
  • Matt 5:20 “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Fulfill – hunger – exceed, all of these words bring up pictures of something to be filled or grown larger.

This caught my attention because I’ve heard two distinct takes on this reality of righteousness (described in my own “terminology”)

  • “Empty” or Reductive Righteousness – a righteousness achieved by removing or reducing the sin/flesh/self in our lives in order to become acceptable to God
  • “Full” or Additive Righteousness – righteousness characterized by filling our lives with God-like  thoughts, actions, and attitudes

To my consideration both are very flawed:

  • Empty righteousness can create boring and unattractive, even hermetical Christians that can never be salt or light to the world (a characteristic Jesus describes in Matt 5:13-16). They just have no witness except that they are purer than the world.
  • Full righteousness can create flamboyant and active Christians that are often motivated by fleshly motives and even fleshlier dreams of their role in God’s kingdom. They have much to boast and yet could never be the lowly people described in the beautudes (Matt 5:3-12).

What really touched me in this light was Matt 5:38-48:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. “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 makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

If this doesn’t require emptying of all of me, then I don’t know what would.

My conclusion is that God delights in humble fireworks. The gospel and his Spirit must empty us, and then set us aflame with holy life that we could never produce or sustain.

Prayer –

Our holy God, we worship you. Only you can create and sustain the impossible life we have in Jesus.

We love you and desire to be righteous in Jesus. Thank you that you make us empty vessels for your presence, persecution, peace, glory, humility, joy, and saving grace. We love you

CombustionCaption: Time to burn

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2 thoughts on “Thought for the day on Matt 3-5 – 18 Jan 2013

  1. Thanks for this. It reminds me of the way Paul described ‘humble fireworks’ – he called them jars of clay with treasure inside. I went through a phase early on in my walk with the Lord where I was only aware of ’empty righteousness’ as you put it. It was good in many ways, but there is also a kind of poverty and wretchedness that comes with it if that’s all you have. I guess that’s what an empty jar must feel like – and I felt like one. I thought I was being humble, but I was a dud firework. A Christianity that is full of empty jars has, as you say, no testimony. Then, for the last three years or so I have become very interested in ‘full righteousness’ – the treasure of God’s grace in us. I have become awed by the fireworks. In the end, a Christianity that is all about treasure is also unattractive and ‘hermetical’, because it cuts us off from a broken world inside and outside of us. The treasure can only be contained by humble vessels. Thanks for the reminder of this – my desire is that God will bring these two things together in my life: we are not empty clay jars and we are not God’s little treasures, we are jars of clay with God’s treasure inside. Praise God!

    I don’t know if this will add to anyone, but I would like to share a thought that has helped me. Another way of talking about the paradox of ‘humble fireworks’ is this. God wants his children to live two great realities 1) who we are in Christ and 2) who Christ is in us. Being in Christ brings humility because it means being a jar of clay – a sinner that needs forgiveness. But the crucial companion to this is this – who is Christ in us? If we want to see ourselves in Christ, we must want to see Him in us. Surely, Christ in us is the hope of glory and fireworks. We are also saints that have been given a treasure that is everything we need for life and godliness. May our Father help all of us to grow in this revelation and live it out.

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