“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:20
Be very careful of setting yourself up as a standard that others should compare themselves to and as an example of what it means to be holy and righteous. Very often at the exact moment you’re setting yourself forward as a person to be admired and emulated there are things about you that would disqualify you from being anyone’s role model. The apostle Paul’s warning in first Corinthians, chapter ten and verse twelve comes to mind, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”
The scribes and the Pharisees of Jesus’ day believed that the professional, financial and social success they enjoyed were evidence that they had pleased God, were righteous and were therefore enjoying his favor. Friends, money, popularity, and advancement don’t stand as evidence of our favored standing before God any more than trials and setbacks reveal our disfavor. It’s obedience to God’s commandments and directions that reveal our spiritual standing. Have we submitted to him and is our submission evidenced in what we do and what we say.
It came as a surprise to those listening to Jesus that day to hear the words, “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” The rank and file had believed that their leaders and teachers were the standard they needed to set their eyes on and strive to equal. Jesus’ words revealed that that brand of righteousness is self righteousness and that kind of righteous is nothing more than “filthy rags.”
The focus of the next two and a half chapters, nearly one tenth of the book of Matthew, record Jesus contrasting his teaching and that of the scribes and Pharisees. His words reveal the shallowness of their pretended righteousness and the lofty expectations of God.
As we consider Jesus’ teaching it’s easy to think that he’s set an impossible goal for us to reach. And he has if we attempt to reach it according to our own strength and ability. We’re no different from the Jewish leaders in that regard, our sinful natures prevent us from lifting ourselves up even one millimeter. We need Jesus’ help and he’s promised it to us. In John chapter fifteen Jesus tells us that without him we can do nothing but with him abiding in us we can do anything he asks us to.
Let’s stop trying to become right on our own. Let’s reach out to Jesus and receive from him the riches, the healing, the righteousness we need. He’s waiting to give them to us. Let’s stop procrastinating and take what he offers today.