Does Your Righteousness Exceed That Of The Scribes And Pharisees?

J. D. Conley
May 17, 2015

In the peerless Sermon on the Mount Jesus warned: "Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 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" (Mt.5:19-20).

Christians may interpret this admonition as very easy to meet, pretty much a snap. After all, we don't go around ostentatiously as the scribes and Pharisees did attempting to draw attention to ourselves as pious people, (cf. Mt.23:1-10). We shun decorative clothing and the donning of clerical robes. The wearing of special titles is repudiated. In short, we abhor every semblance of religious hypocrisy and every external that takes the focus off Christ and aims it at self or men.

But if we hope for our righteousness to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, our understanding of what Jesus says above must be deepened. In verse 19, Jesus says with regards the law of Moses if a Jew had respect for even the least, (i.e., smallest) of the commands, that would be an indicator of how he would conduct himself under the law of Christ. Did the scribes and the Pharisees have respect for the least of the Mosaic commands? They certainly thought they did. They tithed the very granules in their spice racks. They strained at gnats. They washed the outside of their dishes. But in the process overlooked weightier matters, swallowed camels, and inwardly had filthy cups and platters, (Mt.23:23-26). They majored in minors. While its true they believed they were observing what they deemed as the "least commandments," they were not doing so from the heart. Rather their observance was cold, heartless and methodical, bereft of one scintilla of justice, mercy or faith.

Does your righteousness surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees? It depends on how you react to the requirements that seem to be the least. Jesus says: "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much" (Lk.16:10). The scribes and the Pharisees were not faithful in the least. Spiritual integrity is measured and manifested in our performance of the "least commandments." Because if we are obedient in them, we will most assuredly be faithful in all matters, both great and small. Our sense of doing right must not be a facade. If it is, we will find our ourselves banished from heaven along with these Jews, all because our righteousness did not exceed theirs.