Now we're turning again to Matthew 5, and one verse is our text alone - make yourself comfortable, it is very warm in the building this morning, so if you want to take your jacket off, do so, so that we can listen to the word of God in as much physical comfort as possible - even if it doesn't cause us spiritual comfort as we are challenged by it. Verse 47 is our text: "If ye salute your brethren only", and this is the statement that I want us to concentrate on particularly now, "what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?". Let's read it again: "If ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?".
So my title for today's message is: 'What Do You Do More Than Others?". Now there have always been disputes in Christian circles, and particularly between different generations, as to what a Christian should and should not do. I think as long as there will be a church extant on the earth, there will be such discussions. It would have to be said that many of these discussions can be explained by cultural or contextual changes that take place in societies, and even within the church itself. What I mean is, something that in the past may have been sinful and conceived of as sinful, may have only had a sinful connotation because of the context and the culture of that particular time - whereas today, because certain things have changed, that particular thing is not any longer construed as being particularly evil or wicked or sinful.
Now I'm being very careful this morning not to use any particular illustrations of anything, because that will get me into trouble right away! But let me use one illustration, which is really the reverse of what I'm trying to say, which gets across my point. Smoking cigarettes, believe it or not young people, used to be seen as an advantageous thing. In other words, you would have gone into your doctor's surgery, and some of you older folk can remember this - I can't, by the way - and your doctor would have been smoking a cigarette, because it was believed that the smoke of cigarettes would kill the germs in the doctor's surgery. At that point medical technology had not advanced to such an extent to realise, as we do today very graphically if you look at the television advertisements, the damage that smoking can cause upon your health. I think generally speaking Christians today view smoking as wrong, particularly because of the harm that it does to the body - and we ought to believe that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and I know that applies in various other ways, but that certainly applies to smoking.
So you can see how context and culture can add or subtract from our understanding of what is right in the sight of God. These things have been debated down through Christian history. I think we also have to acknowledge, in relation to what is right and what is wrong for a Christian to do or not to do, we have to acknowledge that most generations of Christians always view the past generation with a certain amount of romanticism. Sadly they view the present generation, especially the younger element, as a little bit deficient regarding Christianity in comparison to what young people used to be, or what Christians were in my particular age. I think we have to acknowledge that every generation feels that way, that the best time was 'When I was young'; and that Christians 50 years ago were better than Christians today. So when we take these two factors into consideration: that things change, contexts change, cultures change; and also there is this inbred human perception that things in the past were always better than they are today - taking those two things into consideration I would like to present to you this morning the proposal that, as I understand holiness and what Christians ought to be (applying principles that are found in scripture to every generation), I believe that we are a generation of Christians today - especially among those who are young - who are more like the world than they have ever been!
So I'm granting you the point that yes, cultures are different, contexts change, and older people generally look down on younger people from time to time, and we generally look to our childhood, the past generations with a romanticism - as if there was a utopia, spiritually speaking, then that has left us now. Taking those things into consideration, I still feel today that Christians are not the persons that they used to be, and they do not have the standing that they once had in society. Or to put it another way, there is increasingly less of a difference between those who call themselves Christians and the rest of people in society. Would you agree with me? If you do agree with me, that ought to be a great concern to all of us - but it ought to be a greater concern when we consider, as we will do this morning, the words of the Sermon on the Mount.
Look at the words of chapter 5 and verse 13, this is what Christ says a Christian ought to be: 'Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven'. Look at verse 20: 'For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven'. Then verse 48 that we read together, our last verse: 'Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect'.
Now let me be clear, lest I be misunderstood in what I'm saying today. The Bible is absolutely definite that we are justified by faith and by faith alone, not by the works of the law. Our efforts will never open the gate of heaven to any man. But there is an emphasis, I believe, in Christian society today that we have lost somewhere, perhaps in our recent evangelical history. That emphasis is that although we're not saved by personal holiness, and although a man cannot enter into heaven by his own sanctification, God's word still states that without holiness no man shall see the Lord. It is not by good works that we are justified in the eyes of God, but Scripture does teach that if the man continues to live an ungodly life his faith will not justify, because faith without works is dead. We, though justified before God by faith, we are justified before men and before ourselves by our works, proving that we are of God. The Bible is clear that the faith of God's elect conforms us to the image, to the holiness of God's Son. We do not believe we are saved by works, but I think somehow we have gone a giant pendulum swing to the other extreme, and we don't emphasise works at all. We may even fall into a fatal pit of believing that works don't mean anything in the sight of God!
C. H. Spurgeon said in a particular sermon of his: 'The commands of Christ are not upon the legal tenor of 'this do and live', but upon the Gospel system of 'live and do this''. If we are alive in Christ there will be certain things that we will inevitably do as natural to us, because the life of God is living within us. Whilst we never want to fall into the pit of legalism, and define Christianity as a list of do's and don'ts as the Pharisees did, we must acknowledge - particularly in the light of the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount - that a true Christian, a true born-again believer, will be such a contrasting creature to the rest of humanity that the world will have to stop in its tracks and take note of how different he is! Now I'm asking the question to you all, and to the church at large: is that the case today? Are Christians so different than the run-of-the-mill humanity, do they stand out? Do they shine in the darkness? Are they like salt in the meat, that they can be easily differentiated from what is going on in this world's system?
I think the opposite is true, that Christians in our present generation are becoming more like the world - how you want to define that, I will leave it up to you. What is even more shocking to me, as I read more and more, and research more and more about this, is that some Christians are actually asking us to strive to be more like the world if we are going to reach them! Men like Bill Hybels and Rick Warren, who are at the head of the Church Growth Movement, gurus teaching us marketing principles from the world as to how we can expand the church. Actually practically instructing folk to look more like the world as Christians, to sound more like the world, to organise your programs more in a worldly way in order to attract those that are in the world and then get them saved. The inference of that, practically, from these types of meetings can be seen in those aspects that are characteristically more Christian about the church, like the preaching of God's word and the exposition of it, and the singing of scriptural doctrinal hymns are set aside so that our meetings as a church will be more acceptable to the unconverted.
Now I know that there are certain bridges that we must build in our evangelism to reach the lost, and I have been trying to do that in the week that has gone by in the United Beach Missions, and I hope that we will use our Activity Centre to do exactly that. But we must never ever have the attitude - we must never have the attitude, first of all 'If they don't reach our standard, we're not going to reach out to them', but neither ought we to have the attitude that we must bring biblical principles down to worldly standards in order to reach the lost - because what would we reach them with? Paul did say: 'To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some', and we must build those practical bridges. Hudson Taylor was a man who dressed as a Chinaman, who shaved off all his hair, who grew a ponytail and dyed it black - and in the process nearly blinded himself. He lived as a Chinaman among Chinamen, but he never diluted the gospel, he never changed the message!
The problem comes, and I think that it is evident in the church at large today, when we change what we are and what we do with the sole motive of becoming more like the world in order to appeal to those that are in the world. If our motivation for ministry is to appeal to the appetites of people who are unregenerate, we will fail! That can never be a right motive for anything! Now that is, arguably, a side issue and a distraction and a digression, but I believe that what I have just mentioned is symptomatic of the fact that Christians are not what they ought to be today - and I include myself within that remark. The reason I believe the church has adopted more worldly means is because the Christians themselves have become more worldly. The sad irony here is that if Christians did what Christ told them to do in the Sermon on the Mount, and if they were different, if they were a holy people, a separate people, a peculiar people in the Bible sense; they would be the greatest attraction imaginable! That was God's intention! Our lives and our testimony would be so out of this world that there would be no need to have programs that were out of this world!
We read in the book of the Acts that the early church turned the world upside down. Whilst everything should be done decently and in order, and there's too much of the attitude in the church today: 'Well, that's for the Lord and that will do rightly' - the fact of the matter was, they didn't turn the world upside down by their innovation, by their organisation, by their clever human tactics, by how like the world they were, but by the holiness of their lives and the fearless proclamation of truth from their lips. Their lives and their lips! We read in Acts 4:13: 'Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus'.
I propose to you today that because our lives are deficient in personal holiness and Holy Ghost power, we are trying to compensate in the church with all the gimmicks you can imagine - when, if we were shining lights for Jesus, God would do the work, we wouldn't need to fill in the gaps! What we need today is to rediscover the old paths, the old paths of holiness, the old paths of separation from the world and its ways - and we can start by asking this question in Matthew 5 and verse 47: What do ye more than others? I'm not talking about what you don't do, but are you made different by what you do more than others?
Now let me break this up into a number of points. First of all: a Christian is not to be like the world. The Lord Jesus, I believe, brings this to the people in two tacks. First of all: a Christian is not to be like the world in that he exceeds ordinary men. Then secondly He points out to them that a Christian also ought to exceed religious men in his life. Let's take the first: he exceeds ordinary men. As you'll remember from our reading, that the context of this verse that is our text is primarily referring to the love that we ought to have for all men even if they are our enemy. We ought to love them even if they are despised of all humanity, for even the despised of humanity love their own kind. He mentions to them the publicans. They were seen as the lowest stratum of society, they were the scum of the earth, and Jesus said: 'If you just love your own kind, what are you doing more than the publicans? They love their own, and look what they are!'.
Everyone loves their own kind, don't they? Even criminals, burglars keep together, don't they? The Lord Jesus not only for the general people's sake, but specifically for the Jews, mentions these publicans; and the word that is sometimes used within this portion is 'Gentiles' - that even the Gentiles love one another! What did the pious Jews think of that? Basically what the Lord was doing was outlining a principle that is in all humanity, this is what everybody does: they display love to their own kind. Jesus is asking the question: to love someone is not an exclusively Christian thing - you love your family, or you even love a lost person who you like, that is not Christian! So He asks His disciples and His would be followers in the kingdom, He asks them in verse 47: 'What do ye more than others?'. If you would be a child of God, you need to manifest love not only to those that are like you, but to your very enemy. 'I say unto you', verse 44, 'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust'.
Now it's true, isn't it, that Christians profess to have more than others? We've got all the blessings of God which are 'Yea and Amen' in Christ, and the great blessing of the gospel. What Christ is doing is calling us to live up to our profession, and what a tragedy it is when a man or woman who is called a Christian does not live up to the standards of God's word, when you have ungodly unregenerate sinners outside the church who are just, who are honest, who are as straight as a die, who would not tell you a lie, who are thorough in their work, who are sensible in our lives, who are caring to their friends and relatives and even their enemies, who are more generous than those who claim to own Christ! Spurgeon in one of his sermons put it like this: 'The Christian professes more, the Christian is more, a Christian can do more, a Christian has more, and a Christian looking to the second advent of the Lord is looking for more. Should it not therefore be conclusion and the expectation of both the world, the church, the devil, heaven and hell that a Christian should do more?'. He exceeds ordinary men, sinful men, even the lowest of the low men.
But then secondly the Lord brings them to a higher level: he is to exceed religious men. Of course the Sermon on the Mount shows the difference between not only a Christian and a person in the world, but a Christian and even the most devoted religion. He tells us to go the extra mile, to do more than the Pharisees and the Scribes. He quotes the Ten Commandments: 'The law says...but I say unto you'. Just think for a moment: how better Christianity would be commended to others around us if our lives displayed the spirit of love and forgiveness that's set forth in this Sermon - 'What do ye more than others?'. It's not only related, I believe, to loving your enemies, but there's a general question here that relates to the whole of the Sermon on the Mount, to the whole of the Christian life: what do you more than anybody else?
You see in verse 12 of chapter 7 He says to do to others what you would have them do to you, but we are not to ask the question therefore: 'What do others do to me? What do others do as Christians? What's the standard of Christian living for the people in the Iron Hall? Well, I'll try and live up to that' - or the people in East Belfast, or Northern Ireland, or the Western world - 'If I can live up to that standard'. That's not what God says: 'What do ye more than others?'. Not to ask what others are doing in general, but to ask this: 'Am I doing anything different than people in the world, or than people who call themselves Christians who are clearly not? And if I'm not doing anything different, what am I?'. Moffat, in his translation of verse 47, puts it like this: 'If you only salute your friends, what is special about you?'. What is special about you? What a question! What's special about you? What's different about you? Is there anything different between you and your neighbour who is not a Christian?
The Sermon on the Mount is telling us that the Christian is to be supremely different, verse 47 uses the word 'more than' which in the Greek is 'perazon' (sp?), which means 'over and above'. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who died for his faith under the Nazi regime near the end of World War II, puts well the definition of what this 'perazon' means: 'What makes the Christian different from other men is the peculiar, the perazon, the extraordinary, the unusual, that which is not a matter of course, it is the more, the beyond all that. For Jesus, the hallmark of the Christian is the extraordinary'. The inference here is that if you don't at least strive to live up to the high standards in this Sermon, you're no different from the world because the likelihood is that you're still in the world! You still need to be born again.
When I was studying the Sermon on the Mount a few years ago with you, I used extensively a book by R. Kent Hughes on the Beatitudes - do you know what the title of his book was? 'Are Evangelicals Born Again?' - what a question! You call yourself an evangelical, that matters little with God - are you born-again? Is the new life of Christ evident in you because you're more than others in the world, you're living a holy life - both negatively in not doing those things which they do that are sinful, but positively you're over and above even religious folk? What did Christ say? 'Except your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees', a true righteousness that is not legalistic rules and regulations, but the very holy life of God that is within us.
You say today: 'What would Christ have me do that is over and above what others are doing?'. Well, the standard of your behaviour is not only to be doing more than people in the world are doing, not to be doing more than religious, devout people, not just to be doing more than other Christians who set a low level for the church - but here's our standard in verse 48: 'Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect'.
What would Christ have you do? Well, here's your second point: a Christian will be like Christ and like God. He will manifest in his daily life something of the characteristics of God Himself. Jesus is saying that he is meant to live as He lived. Not just morals or ethics, you can get that in Islam, you can get that in Catholicism, you can get that in Buddhism, you can get it in almost all the religions and cults of this world - but what Jesus is talking about here is that the Christian is set apart from all that, he is special, he is over and above, he is beyond this, because there is a Christ-likeness about him!
I think it's true, and you've probably found this out and experienced it in the workplace or in school or wherever you live your daily life, that unconverted people expect more from us than at times we do of ourselves - isn't that right? They have an eagle eye, watching your every move, and whilst that to an extent is hypocrisy in the fact that their lives are falling far short of the glory of God, and they have rejected the gospel, they are expecting no more from us than what Christ expects. To be like God, is that too high a standard?
Pythagoras, who you'll probably have heard of if you studied mathematics, said this very true theological statement: 'The sum total of your religion is to be like the one you worship'. If you adore someone, you want to be like them. An attachment to Christ is the only secret to the detachment from the world, communion with Him, and as you grow to know Him you'll grow to love Him, and as you grow to love Him you'll grow to be like Him. Was there a more unearthly, unworldly man than Jesus Christ? Och, I listen to some arguments about, 'Is this right for Christians to do this?...blah, blah, blah...' - they all wish there were verses in the Bible for this, that and the other, just so that we could legalistically...but we're ignoring the fact that that there is a principle of love that ought to be working in the life of every believer, and if every believer loved the Lord Jesus Christ as he ought, there would be no such a thing as an unholy, worldly, unsanctified Christian.
Murray M'Cheyne, who was a holy man of God who died at the age of 29, said: 'It's not great talent whom God blesses, so much as likeness to Jesus' - likeness to Him. What do ye more than others? That's completely impossible in the natural, you've got to be born again, you've got to be drawing upon the Spirit of the Living God - but how like Christ are you? Are you in the world? Are you trying to be like the world? Are you trying to mimic the world? Or is your Christian life just a bunch of do's and don'ts, a legalistic form and system, and you're no different than religious people all over the world? Or is the principle of God's grace and love working in you every day, conforming you more and more to the image of His blessed Son?
How many Christ-like Christians are there are about? The young son of a humble consecrated preacher became very ill. After the boy had undergone exhaustive tests, the father was told the shocking news that the little boy in a number of days, because he had a terminal illness, was going to die. Thankfully the little boy had accepted Christ as his Saviour, so the preacher knew that death would usher him into glory. But he was perplexed at how he was going to share this awful information with his son, how he would inform his little boy that he was going to die. After seeking God earnestly, he came into the hospital ward, got down beside the little boy and opened the Bible and first read a portion of Scripture, and then prayed with the little lad. Then he asked him the question: 'Son, are you afraid to meet Jesus?'. The little boy, blinking away the tears, bravely said: 'No, not if He's like you Dad'. Could anyone say that of us?
How Christlike are we? Have we learnt that though the Bible says 'Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved', that 'by their fruits ye shall know them'? Have we learnt that in some extent works will be the evidence, on the last day, of how we will be judged? Have we learnt that it is good works that silences the accusations of our enemies and the enemies of God and Christ? Have we learnt that it is our good works that brings glory to God, as they see them and glorify our God who is in heaven? Have we learnt that it is good works that brings peace to our consciences? There are some Christians, and I fear in this generation in particular, who haven't realised that salvation in Christ is not a salvation in sin, but a salvation from sin!
Sometimes a little baby is born, and it doesn't resemble either of the parents - but then, as often as not, the day comes when people look at them and say: 'Aye, there is something of his father in him', or 'I couldn't see it before, but I do see her mother in her now, it's not much but it's there'. Friends, that's the test! What is in you of Christ? If God is your Father, somewhere or another, in some form or another, the family likeness will be there - the traces of parentage inevitably will appear. One of the best diagnostic questions that you could ever ask of your soul is: 'What do I do more than others?'
Father, help us all to ask of ourselves, as the Saviour asked: What do ye more than others? Father, such a high standard, but yet when we think of what we have been given as Christians, we have been given the ability by the blessed Holy Spirit to live Christ's life here on earth. Whilst we will inevitably fail and never be perfect until we reach glory, Lord we pray that old prayer of M'Cheyne's: 'Make me as holy as a saved sinner can be'. To be like Jesus, to be like Jesus, all I ask is to be like Him - that we may be epistles, read and known of those who will never read a Bible, who will never be at a Gospel meeting, who will never hear a verse quoted in their ear, that they may see that we have been with Jesus and that we bear His likeness. Lord, how far short we all fall, help us, give us added grace for our great need. In the Saviour's name we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording titled "What Do You Do More Than Others?" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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