Keys to Being a Great Father

Topical Scripture: Job 1:1-5

Today is Father’s Day—in days past, the Christmas of tie makers, with 12,600 miles of ties being sold. That’s enough ties tied end-to-end to cross the country six times, with enough left over for 800,000 men to wear to church today.

This morning, as a father I’m more interested in what God wants me to give to my children than in what they will give to me. I have plenty of ties in my closet (and I’m so glad I don’t have to wear one to Chapel). What do they need from me in theirs?

Father’s Day should be every day. This day to encourage and resource our fathers is a biblical, urgent day for us all.

Of all things we should try to be great at, being great fathers should be at the top of the list. God has entrusted eternal souls to our care. We have no greater privilege or responsibility.

To that end, I’d like us to meet a role model for the ages. One of the finest fathers in all of literature. From his example, we’ll find keys to being a great father. And we’ll learn how to use them in our lives and families this week.

The first key: integrity

Our text begins: “There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job” (v. 1a). Job was a real person, referred to in Ezekiel 14:14 as a person of “righteousness.” Uz was a Gentile area, probably east of Israel in modern-day Jordan and Syria. It’s interesting that one of the most godly people in all the Bible was not even an Israelite.

Our text says of him, “that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1b). “Blameless” and “upright” go together in the Hebrew text as two sides of the same coin. The first means to be “complete, entire, lacking nothing”; the second means “standing straight,” unwilling to compromise morally.

Taken together, they lead to our first key: integrity.

The word comes from the Latin for “one” and means “to be one person.” There’s nothing worse than when the inside and the outside don’t agree. Our children see this immediately. We can lead them no further than we are. If we want them to be people of integrity, we must be men of integrity.

The second key: spirituality

Our text also says of Job that he “feared God and turned away from evil.” To “fear God” is to reverence him, to respect him with awe and submission. To “turn away from evil” is to refuse it every time, in every situation.

Together, these words hold our second key: spirituality. Genuine spirituality requires both commitments. If I fear and reverence God, I will refuse sin. To have his power to refuse sin, I must revere and fear him.

Integrity and spirituality are both essential to great fatherhood. Many fathers live with personal integrity but without deep spirituality. Others are very spiritual on Sunday but demonstrate less integrity on Monday. We must have both to be the best fathers we can be.

It’s been said, “Until a boy is fifteen, he does what his father says; after that, he does what his father does.”

A famous child psychiatrist once studied the faith of children and compared it to their relationships with their fathers. His conclusion: “No child will think more of God than he thinks of his own father.”

The third key: time together

We’ve discussed Job’ personal life; now, let’s look at his family.

He had seven sons and three daughters, seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and a large number of servants. He was indeed the richest man in the East (vv. 2–3).

For many fathers, this would be enough. So long as we provide for our families financially, we think we’ve done all we need to do. When baseball player Pete Rose was caught up in an illegal gambling furor a few years ago, his daughter told reporters he was a “crummy father.” Rose responded: “What’s she mean I’m a ‘crummy father’? I’m a great father. Why, just last week, I bought her a brand-new Mercedes.”

By contrast, Job’s sons “used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them” (v. 4). Here we discover our third key: time together. Every night of the week, one of Job’s sons would host dinner for their entire family. Even though they were scattered around the area, they spent time together as a family, every day.

Children spell “love,” “t-i-m-e.” They cannot distinguish between “quality” time and “quantity” time. For them, there’s just time. It takes time to be a great father.

The fourth key: worship together

Our text continues: “And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, ‘It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts'” (v. 5).

Here we discover our fourth key: worship together.

Each week Job would “send” for his family, calling them to meet him at his house. He would “rise early in the morning,” a Hebrew idiom meaning “as his highest priority.” He would “consecrate” them, sacrificing an animal for each of his children.

He did this proactively, in case they had sinned. He did not assume that they were where they should be spiritually but took active steps to lead them to the Lord. He was their first pastor and priest, taking personal responsibility for their spiritual lives.

His example is in Scripture so we will follow it today. Do you have regular time to pray with your family? To read Scripture together? To worship?

We cannot lead our children further than we are willing to go. And, we must lead them if they will go there.

The fifth key: consistency

Our text concludes: “Thus Job did continually” (v. 5b). Not just on feast days, or special observances, or when problems arose. He was committed to personal integrity, spirituality, time together, and worship together, every week.

No matter the stress of his work or the circumstances of his life, these priorities came first.

No wonder he was known as “the greatest of all the people of the east” (v. 3). His family would have agreed.


How well would your family say you’re demonstrating these keys in your life and family? Personal integrity, spirituality, time together, worship together, and consistency—which is God’s invitation for focus and progress today?

Being your family’s spiritual leader is your greatest responsibility and privilege. You are shaping eternal souls. Nothing else matters as much. So be encouraged that your work is vital. And decide what you will do to take your next step today.

A group of botanists hiking in the mountains found a very rare flower. It was growing on a ledge of rock which could be reached only at great peril and with a lifeline. None were experienced climbers, so they found a local shepherd boy and offered him several gold coins to climb down the rope and retrieve the flower.

The boy wanted the money but feared that the job was too dangerous. He would have to trust strangers to hold his lifeline. Suddenly he had an idea. He left the group, and returned a moment later holding the hand of a much older man. He ran with excitement to the edge of the cliff and said to the botanists, “You can tie the rope under my arms now. I’ll go into the canyon, as long as you let my father hold the rope.”

Whose rope is in your hand today?

The Key to True Forgiveness

Topical Scripture: Matthew 5:7

There was some strange news in the news this week.

  • A man built a pyramid from 1,030,315 pennies, setting a Guinness record. It took him three years. I’m not sure how he makes a living, but he has $10,303.15 in cash on hand.
  • A man in Spain sold a block of blue cheese for $16,142.41.
  • Another man fit 146 blueberries in his mouth, setting a Guinness record.
  • And veterinarians removed nineteen pacifiers from the stomach of a bulldog named Mortimer. Following surgery, Mortimer is fully recovered.

Much of what makes headlines this week will be forgotten next week. If you want to do something unforgettable and life-changing, put today’s beatitude into practice in your life.

Jesus declared: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7). Giving and receiving mercy leads to blessing we will never forget, on earth or in heaven.

Who is the person who has hurt you most deeply or recently? Who is the person you think of first when I ask you for someone you need to forgive? Let’s ask Jesus to help us do just that.

What is mercy?

Let’s begin with the question: What is “mercy”?

Here’s the short answer: grace is getting what you don’t deserve—mercy is not getting what you do deserve. It’s mercy to be forgiven. It’s mercy to forgive. That’s what mercy is; now, what is mercy not?

Ethicist Lewis Smedes offers these answers:

  • Forgiving is not forgetting. God can forgive our confessed sins and forget them. In fact, he does: Isaiah 43.25 promises that he “will not remember your sins.” But you and I cannot do this. Human beings cannot simply reformat the disk or erase the tape. You can pull the nail out of your soul, but the hole remains.
  • Forgiving is not excusing the behavior which hurt you. The person chose to do that which hurts you today.
  • Forgiving is not pretending that you’re not hurt. You can carry on, but the pain remains and often grows.
  • Forgiving is not tolerating. You may have to tolerate your employer, or your sibling, or your son-in-law. That doesn’t mean that you’ve forgiven him.

To forgive is to pardon. It is to refuse to punish, even though you have every right to do so. It is the governor pardoning the criminal—he doesn’t forget about the crime, or excuse it, or pretend it didn’t occur, or tolerate the behavior. He simply chooses not to punish, though he could.

So who needs your pardon this morning?

As Smedes observes, you may need today to pardon a parent who died and left you. The birth mother who gave you away. The “invisible ghost” in the organization who fired you, or mismanaged your investments, or cut your son from the squad or your daughter from the drill team. Someone who appears not to care if you forgive them or not. God. Yourself.

Who most needs your pardon today?

Why should you be merciful?

Why issue it?

First, to stop your personal cycle of pain.

This beatitude promises the merciful will be “blessed” by God. This “blessing” transcends your pain. God offers you a ticket off the roller coaster of hurt. But you must extend mercy to receive it.

You see, if you give back what others give to you, you are constantly their victim. They pitch—you catch. You’re trapped by your circumstances. Your soul is a genie in their bottle—how they rub it determines who you are.

If you refuse to pardon the person who hurt you, he hurts you still. Every time you plot your revenge you feel again your pain. Every time you nurse your pain you increase it. The person who hurt you may not even know you’re harboring your grudge and wounding your soul. He or she may have gone on with life. You’re hurting no one more than yourself. But you can stop today.

The second reason follows the first: pardon to receive mercy.

Jesus promises the merciful that they will be shown mercy.

This is not a transaction, a legal arrangement, as though my mercy obligates you and God to be merciful to me. Mercy is not a means to your end, but a free gift you choose to give.

But when you give it, a miraculous thing happens: You put yourself in position to receive mercy from God and others. Not because you earned it, but simply because now you’re willing to receive it. The most legalistic people with others are equally legalistic with themselves. If I won’t forgive you until you’re punished, I won’t forgive myself until I’m punished. If I won’t show mercy to you, I won’t receive it myself.

I was once hurt by a deacon and his family in a church I pastored. The pain was real and deep. Every time I saw him in worship, I felt my anger well up in my soul. I became short, irritated, on edge with others—and especially with myself. Intolerant of my own mistakes and failures. But the day I released my anger and chose to pardon that man, I found a new freedom with myself. A new willingness to be loved and forgiven by God.

If life must be fair, every injustice punished, we cannot forgive others. Or ourselves.

Here’s a third reason: pardon to break the circle of revenge.

If I must return your hurt, then you must return mine. And I must return yours. It has been truly said: You can no more win a war than win a fire.

But when you pardon me, the cycle stops. There’s nothing left for me to do but to receive or reject your pardon. I have no cause to hurt you, and abundant reason to love you and learn to love myself as well.

Here’s a fourth reason: to show others the love of Christ.

Jesus identified one characteristic as a guarantee that others will know we love him: “By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Forgiving, pardoning, releasing love proves that God’s love in us is real.

During the depths of the Cold War, people in a particular East German town began throwing their trash over the Berlin Wall into the West German town on the other side. The West Germans, for their part, responded by tossing food and clothes to the East Germans. With this note: “Each gives what he has.”

How can you be merciful?

Let’s close with the practical question I hope you’re now asking: how can you be merciful? How can you do as Jesus teaches here, so that you stop your pain, experience mercy, break the cycle of revenge, and show others his love? What practical steps can you take this morning to offer mercy to the person who most needs it from you?

First, admit the reality of your hurt.

Name it honestly and specifically. Describe in words how you feel about it and the person who caused it. Describe even what you would like to do in revenge. Get your feelings out, as openly and transparently as possible.

You may want to put them on paper. Write a letter to the one who hurt you, then tear it up. You may want to talk to a friend you trust, or a Christian counselor. Most of all, admit it to God. As someone said, “Tell God on them.” Pour out your pain and hurt. You must admit the cancer exists before the surgeon can help you.

Second, ask God to help you pardon the one who hurt you.

You are not expected to be “merciful” without Jesus’ help. That’s why these Beatitudes are addressed to believers, followers of Christ. And why they are sequential. If we admit our need of God and mourn for our own sins, living under the control of the Spirit and seeking to be righteous in every relationship, then we can be empowered to extend to others the mercy we have received.

Turn to the Holy Spirit who dwells in your heart and soul. Ask him for the power and pardon of God. Ask him for the ability to see this person as he does. And to see yourself as he does—both of you redeemed sinners. Ask him to help you give to your enemy the mercy God has given to you.

And act as though he has. Don’t feel yourself into a new way of acting—act yourself into a new way of feeling. Step out by faith. Every time the pain wells up inside your heart again, tell yourself again that you have released this person from the prison of their sin. That the ink on the pardon is dry, the deed is done, the forgiveness made.

Third, initiate restoration.

With God’s help, act in courage. Jesus taught us to go directly to the person who sins against us (Matthew 18:15). Tell the person honestly what he or she did to you, and how much this pain has hurt you. They may not even know their injustice or comprehend its severity. If I hurt you, I want to know it. I want you to talk to me, not about me. And I to you. Go to the person in question, with honesty.

Tell this person that you have pardoned him. He may not understand what you mean, or believe it, or accept it. She may never reciprocate what you have done. This is not yours to decide. You must begin the process of healing the relationship, whatever your partner in restoration decides to do.

And find an honest way to a new relationship. To forgive is not to be naïve. It is not to allow an unrepentant, unchanged person to hurt you yet again. Neither is it to assume that they will never change. Seek a wise balance with the wisdom God gives to know what and where you can trust. You may never have the old relationship, but you can have a new one by the mercy of God.

Last, be realistic. We humans forgive slowly, a little at a time, usually with anger left over. One day at a time. Remind yourself that you have forgiven as many times as the pain comes back. And over time, it will come back less. And one day, perhaps, not at all.


To forgive, you must first be forgiven. You cannot give what you have never received. Have you asked Jesus to forgive your sins, to pardon your failures, to be your Savior and Lord? He’s waiting to do just that for you, right now. And to help you give his forgiveness to the person most in need of this gift from you.

Take a little quiz with me. Name the wealthiest person in the world. Name the last Heisman trophy winner, or last winner of the Miss America pageant, or last recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

When you forgive someone for what they did to you, you will never forget it. Neither will they.

This is the promise, and the invitation, of God.

The Key to True Humility

Topical Scripture: Matthew 5:5

Summer will not begin officially until June 21, but don’t tell that to the kids who are already out of school. Nearly one hundred million of us will take a family vacation this year; two-thirds of us during the summer. Since 87 percent of us own outdoor grills, we will do a lot of barbequing.

As I mentioned last week, Americans will eat seven billion hot dogs between now and Labor Day. We’ll eat 150 million of them just on July 4. However, according to a recent survey, 43 percent of us are afraid to find out what’s in them.

In our high-tech world, it seems we know less and less about more and more. When I owned a 1965 Mustang, I could do nearly all the maintenance myself. I wouldn’t even know how to change the oil on the car I drive now.

Do you understand how talking into the rectangle we call a cell phone connects you to people on the other side of the world? How that device can download the entire internet to your hand? How Wi-Fi actually works? How speaking into a microphone produces sound your ears can hear? How your ears actually work?

Living in a world as complex as ours is a humbling thing. And that’s a good thing, actually.

A. W. Tozer: “For the Christian, humility is absolutely indispensable. Without it there can be no self-knowledge, no repentance, no faith and no salvation.” St. Augustine: “Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.”

C. S. Lewis adds: “A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”

To see the Someone who is above you, choose humility. Jesus said it this way: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). What does it mean to be “meek”? Why do we need to be “meek”? Why is “meekness” the key to true success? What does it look like in your life this week?

Value humility as God does

“Blessed” means to have a sense of wellbeing that transcends all circumstances, the kind of blessing only God can bestow. “Are the meek”—the Greek word is praus. It has several hues within its spectrum of meaning, but it reduces to the idea of humility before God.

Such people will “inherit the earth,” being blessed by God in every way. Not just part of the earth, but all the blessing God might give. No conqueror has ever won what God promises here.

But we try. We try to inherit the earth through our performance, possessions, and perfectionism. By trying harder to do more, have more, be more. And so genuine humility is hard for many of us.

Like many of you, I am a performer by nature. It is my natural personality to want you to like me, to be impressed by me, to affirm me. Many of us are this way. We live in a performance-dominated culture, where we are rewarded for what we can produce. But it’s hard to want to impress people and be humble at the same time. Performing makes biblical humility hard.

On the other hand, many of us also struggle with self-esteem issues, making the wrong kind of humility easy.

Consider this profound statement by psychologist Paul Tournier: “I believe there is a great illusion underlying both the despair of the weak and the unease of the strong—and the misfortune of both. This great illusion is the very notion that there are two kinds of human beings, the strong and the weak. The truth is that human beings are much more alike than they think … All … in fact, are weak. All are weak because they are afraid. They are afraid of being trampled underfoot. They are all afraid of the inner weakness being discovered. They all have secret faults; they all have a bad conscience on account of certain acts which they would like to keep covered up. They are all afraid of other men and of God, of themselves, of life, and of death” (quoted in Ten Habits for Effective Ministry, 21).

Many of us feel badly about ourselves, leading to a self-punishing, demeaning kind of humility. A performance-centered society and low self-image both make biblical humility hard for us.

But listen to what Jesus said about such humility. He described himself as “gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29 NIV). He promised us, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4). He warned us, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). And he taught us, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:14–15).

The blunt fact is that we cannot be “blessed” by God unless we value humility as he does.

See yourself as God sees you

But valuing humility doesn’t mean that we know how to experience it. Here’s the second biblical step: see yourself as God sees you.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones defines “praus” or “meek” as “a humble and gentle attitude to others which is determined by a true estimate of ourselves.” To be “meek” or “humble,” develop a “true estimate” of yourself. Learn to see yourself the way God does.

So, how does God see you? As a redeemed sinner. A person who sinned and fell short of his glory; a person whose sins cost his Son his life; a person worthy of eternity in hell. And also a person he loves so much he gave his Son to die in your place, to pay for your sins, to purchase your salvation. A sinner redeemed by his love.

A rabbi once said, “A man should carry two stones in his pocket. On one should be inscribed, ‘I am but dust and ashes.’ On the other, ‘For my sake was the world created.'” Both inscriptions are true.

Imagine yourself a condemned criminal on death row, scheduled for execution. All appeals are exhausted; the final hour has come. You are strapped to the gurney, and tubes are inserted in your arm. The doctor is about to administer the lethal injection when the phone rings. The governor of the state is coming over.

But when he arrives, something unprecedented occurs. He does not pardon you. He insists that your sentence be carried out. But he then orders the guards to remove you from the table. He takes off his coat and lies on your gurney. He rolls up his sleeve and orders the doctor to connect your tubes to his arm. He receives your injection; he takes your punishment; he dies for you.

For the rest of your life, you will be a ransomed sinner, a condemned criminal. But you will also be someone loved beyond words by someone of great standing, of enormous power, of the highest significance.

This is exactly who you are.

When we see ourselves as God does, our twin problems with humility are solved. We are set free from performance anxiety, the intense “drivenness” to impress people with our value because we are valued by the Lord of the universe. And we are set free from debilitating, demeaning, demoralizing humility because we are valued by the Lord of the universe.

You are a person of indescribable worth, not because of who you are but because of whose you are. See yourself as God does, and you’ll be freed for genuine humility.

See others as God sees them

Value humility as God does and see yourself as God does. Now you’re ready for the third step to biblical humility: see others as God sees them.

Greek scholar Fritz Rienecker has this definition for “praus:” “The humble and gentle attitude which expresses itself in a patient submissiveness to offense, free from malice and desire for revenge.” To be “meek” is to “submit to offense,” no matter how others have offended you.

To do this, we must see others as God sees them. As people of infinite worth, for they are the creation of God. As sinners just like us, saved by God’s grace as we are. To be humble before others, do not judge them as better or worse than you are. Choose to pardon them when they hurt you, for God has pardoned you. Release your anger, or need for revenge, or pain.

When we do this, we are free to be humble before every person we know. Not just before those people we judge to be superior to us, those who humble us with their abilities or success. But also before those we consider inferior to us, those we judge and criticize and condemn. We can be humble before the lowest sinner, when we see him as God does.

Two quotes challenged me this week: “Only God is in position to look down on anyone.” and, “Any experience which makes me feel superior to other people is not of the Lord.” See others as God sees them, and you’ll be humble before every person you know.

See your gifts as God sees them

Here’s the last step: see your gifts and abilities as God sees them.

James Montgomery Boice defines “praus” as strength under control. He illustrates the word this way: a powerful stallion, strong and fast, completely bridled and submitted to the control of its master. To be “meek” is not to depreciate the stallion’s strength, speed or abilities. It is to submit them to the control of their master.

How does God see your abilities? As his gifts, entrusted to you to be used for his glory.

It is not biblical humility to debase yourself. Neither can you be humble when you exalt yourself.

It is biblical humility to embrace and affirm the gifts, abilities, opportunities, education, and experiences God has given to you, and then use them to glorify your Lord. Develop them fully and engage them completely.

One of my mentors said to me, “The Holy Spirit has a strange affinity for the trained mind.” Develop fully all that God has given to you. But yield it to the control of God and use it for the glory of God.

Mother Teresa, the tiny Albanian nun, became the world’s most famous Christian next to Billy Graham. But her goal was just the opposite. From the time she first entered ministry, her life purpose never changed. In her words, she wished only to be “a tiny pencil in the hand of God.” And what he wrote with her gifts changed the world.


Do you value humility today as Jesus does? Do you see yourself as he does—a redeemed sinner, loved for whose you are? Do you see others as he does—fellow sinners, equal in value with you as your sisters and brothers? Do you see your abilities as he does—gifts to be used in his will for his glory?

Then you are “praus,” “meek.” And you are “blessed.”

Here is one of the finest faith commitments I know, from a Muslim who became a Christian and prayed: “O God, I am Mustafah the tailor and I work at the shop of Muhammad Ali. The whole day long I sit and pull the needle and the thread through the cloth. O God, you are the needle and I am the thread. I am attached to you and I follow you. When the thread tries to slip away from the needle it becomes tangled and must be cut so that it can be put back in the right place. O God, help me to follow you wherever you may lead me. For I am really only Mustafah the tailor, and I work at the shop of Muhammad Ali on the great square.”

Whose “thread” are you?

The Key to True Righteousness

Topical Scripture: Matthew 5:6

I saw some interesting signs recently:

  • On a plumber’s truck: “We repair what your husband fixed.”
  • At an optometrist’s office: “If you don’t see what you’re looking for, you’ve come to the right place.”
  • Outside a muffler shop: “No appointment necessary. We heard you coming.”
  • Seen at a café: “If our food, drinks, and service aren’t up to your standards, please lower your standards.”

We’re talking about success today. What drives you? What defines success for you? If you could be anything in the world, what would you be? What should you be?

Let’s ask Jesus.

What do you want?

“Blessed are the ones hungering and thirsting,” Jesus begins in the literal Greek. Our Lord assumes that we all hunger and thirst for something. He doesn’t say, “Blessed are you if you hunger and thirst . . .” He knows that we do. And of course, he’s right.

In his day people knew physical hunger and thirst every day. People died without food or water. Droughts weren’t a nuisance for the lawn, but a threat to life itself. Crop failures didn’t mean debt, but death. While our society has passed that place, we’re no less hungry and thirsty for the things that matter to us. We’re all driven by something.

Theologian Paul Tillich was right: we each have an “ultimate concern.” Something or someone which matters more than anything else to us. There’s something in your life which means success and significance to you: Raising successful children; becoming president of your company; retiring at fifty-five; publishing bestselling books; getting into the right school, making the right grades, having the right friends; becoming a famous artist or doctor or lawyer or scientist or singer or teacher; being “happy.”

What drives you? What should? How can you be sure that when you climb to the top of the ladder, it’s not leaning against the wrong wall? What constitutes success with God? What makes us “blessed” by God? For what should we “hunger and thirst” this morning?

What should you want?

“Hunger and thirst after righteousness,” Jesus continues. The Greek word here reduces to the idea of uprightness, of doing what is right. But there’s more to the word than that. Unpack it with me for a moment.

First, there’s an internal sense here—personal character and morality. Not just what you do, but who you are. Dwight Moody said that your character is what you do in the dark. It’s been said that what you are when no one is looking, is what you are.

“Righteousness” here requires personal, intimate holiness. A person whose attitudes and motives are just. The word means to be the same thing in private that you are in public, to be godly in character both places, every day.

One reason to value such righteousness is that what we are in the dark is usually exposed to the light. We read daily of business leaders who lied about the bottom line, fabricated profits, misrepresented in shareholder reports, and have to “take the fifth.” But there’s no fifth amendment with God.

A friend once said to me, “Happiness depends on circumstances; blessedness depends on character.”

“Righteousness” is first internal, and second horizontal. It points to our actions with others. The word means to practice uprightness and justice with all we know. Abigail Adams, wife of our second president, once wrote to her sister Elizabeth, “To be good, and do good, is the whole duty of man.”

Such horizontal righteousness is vital to our society. President George W. Bush made this eloquent and perceptive statement about corporate dishonesty: “All investment is an act of faith, and faith is earned by integrity. In the long run, there’s no capitalism without conscience; there is no wealth without character.”

“Righteousness” is internal, then horizontal. And it is vertical as well: being right with God. Righteous in the sense of keeping God’s commandments; living by his word; fulfilling his will; confessing our sins when we commit them; being sure nothing is wrong between us and our Father; walking close to him.

Jesus makes this the key to character, the attribute for which we must “hunger and thirst” each day, the pathway to “blessing.” If you can be only one thing, be righteous.

Niccolò Paganini was in concert with a full orchestra when a string snapped. He continued, improvising his solo. But then a second string snapped, then a third. Three limp strings hanging from Paganini’s violin. He continued and finished the difficult piece with one string. Then he played an encore piece on that one string. And then he held up the violin and said to the crowd, “Paganini and one string!”

What should your “one string” be? Jesus makes the answer clear today.

How do we achieve it?

So, here’s the practical question: How do we achieve “righteousness” with ourselves, others, and God? How do we play our lives on this string?

Here’s the first step: want to be righteous.

Decide that you will be godly in character, actions, and faith if you are nothing else. Choose holiness above everything. Hunger and thirst for it.

C. S. Lewis: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Settle for nothing less than righteousness as the central attribute of your character. Seek it with desperation and passion. Then you can receive it from God: “they will be filled,” satisfied completely. If you hunger to be righteous, your hunger will be satisfied. But you must hunger first. You must want this food before you can have it.

Second, admit that you are not righteous without God.

Here’s what God says of us: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God” (Romans 3:10–11). This is the biblical doctrine called “total depravity.” It means that every part of our lives is affected by sin.

The cancer has metastasized throughout the body of the patient. The patient can still read the paper, drink coffee, even go to work perhaps; but the disease is everywhere, and death is inevitable.

In the eyes of a holy God, “there is no one righteous.” Let’s see. Think about your last sin. That one sin alone is enough to keep you out of God’s perfect heaven. So admit that you cannot be righteous without the help of God.

Third, seek the righteousness of God by faith.

You cannot make yourself righteous. That’s why Jesus’ Beatitude is in the passive tense: “they will be filled.” Not “they will fill themselves,” for we cannot. This is not a call to try harder to be better. Not works righteousness. We can do better for a while, but ultimately, we’ll fall and fail again. I’ve tried. So have you.

Instead, accept this fact: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ is our righteousness. He will impart to us his Spirit, his holiness, his character. This is the exchanged life. Believe that Christ lives in your heart, by faith. Ask him to make himself real through your character, your personality. Ask him to help you exhibit the righteousness of God.

Give him time to do so. Meet him in Scripture, so he can transform your mind. Meet him in prayer, so he can transform your spirit. Meet him in worship, so he can transform your soul. Let the carpenter work with the wood, molding and shaping it into his own image. And believe that he is.

So, where do you need to be righteous this morning? Where are you grappling with sin or temptation—with yourself, with others, with God? Identify that issue right now. Hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God. Admit to him that you cannot make yourself righteous. Be sure that you’ve made Christ your Savior and Lord. Ask him for his character, his holiness, his power, his righteousness. Spend time with him, allowing him to transform you into his image. And you will be “blessed” indeed.


Our culture says good enough is good enough. So long as you’re as moral as the rest of us, you’re as moral as you need to be. Don’t stand out—don’t be different. Go along to get along.

Jesus says that if you want to live your best life, you must hunger and thirst for the righteousness only God can give. You must settle for nothing less than his character, his integrity, his Spirit powerfully working in and through your life. You must seek to be so much like Jesus that others see Jesus in you.

Can God do this?

A group of American ministers once visited England to hear some of her famous preachers. On a Sunday morning they attended the renowned City Temple. Some two thousand people filled the building, and the pastor’s forceful personality dominated the service. His voice was powerful, his message biblical, and the Americans left saying, “What a wonderful preacher is [name]!”

That night they heard Charles Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. The building was much larger and the congregation more than twice the size. Spurgeon’s voice and oratory were the finest they had ever heard.

But the Americans soon forgot all about the building, the congregation, and the voice. They even overlooked their intention to compare the two preachers. When the service was over, they found themselves saying only, “What a wonderful Savior is Jesus Christ!”

What will people say about you this week?